Tuesday 14 May 2013

German Soldier Quality

The idea that German soldiers were inherently superior to the Allies is common in popular history. However, German General Franz Halder wrote "Our infantry does not even closely compare to what we had in 1914." Captured German documents seem to agree with him.

A document from a dead unteroffizier, dated September 25th, 1941, captured in the region of Kiskino 4 days later, states:

"Order to the 489th infantry regiment, 269th division.

It has been found once again that, during offensives and defenses, infantry and machine gunners would not open fire at the enemy, in fear of being located by enemy artillery located nearby.

I must state that this behaviour is unacceptable, fake, and incompatible with the fighting spirit of a German soldier. This indicates a lack of bravery, cowardice, and poor morale.

A soldier that behaves this way stops being a warrior, feels inadequate, and demonstrates to the enemy that he is already beaten.

We must show the Russians the opposite, that we have absolute moral superiority. We cannot, especially now, at our goal, at the gates of Leningrad, feel weak. Our unit must fight with doubled efforts and self-sacrifice. We owe this to our wounded and dead comrades.

I demand that all soldiers, especially new reserves, must focus all of their will and skill, in order to complete the task we have been given in time.

I order to open fire at any Russian from 600 meters. The Russian must know that they have a focused enemy, from which he can expect no mercy. Only then will the enemy keep a respectful distance, and will not  be in a condition to counterattack.

Artillery and grenadiers are only helpers, in an offensive or defensive operation, the most important and decisive factor is the infantryman, and this can only happen when every soldier shoots as long as possible.

Anyone found to hold their fire due to fear or indifference will be tried by a court-martial. We are in a battle where the question of "to be or not to be" is decided. Each one of you must know this, and express it in your relation to the enemy. Our slogan is the destruction of the enemy by all means, and this means shoot, and shoot more, it cannot be otherwise."

That regiment is not the only one having trouble with new recruits. The 40th Tank Corps had similar problems. CAMD RF 500-12462-135, dated February 18th, 1942, tells it in detail:

"In addition to the above document, the division reports: out of 1092 privates:
  • 25 did not undergo basic training.
  • 87 did not undergo line training, do not know how to throw grenades, did not undergo entrenchment training.
  • 284 are only good for work battalions, and also did not finish basic training.
From the remaining 596 men, the following did not finish training:
  • 82 did not undergo line training.
  • 132 cannot throw grenades.
  • 36 did not finish entrenchment training. 
Out of the 1092 privates, the following illnesses are observed:
  • Heart, lungs, asthma: 71
  • Flat feet: 95
  • Internal illnesses: 58
  • Other illnesses: 4
The quantity of the reinforcements does not satisfy the requirements given by front-line units. The front-line units also cannot train the reinforcements, since they do not have time. We request that the reinforcements be already trained, since training in these conditions is difficult and time consuming.
The poor quality of reinforcements must be seen as the largest and most important danger to units. Even the best regiment must refuse these reinforcements, as the amount of experienced soldiers at a minimum. Here are two examples of their behaviour in battle:
  1. When the first shots were fired, the recruits buried themselves in the snow and were useless for battle. When the officers tried to encourage them, they pretended to be dead. When the Russians brought in tanks, they got up and ran away.
  2. In another battle, recruits, upon hearing the first shots, hid behind cover and started firing their rifles in the air uselessly. 
I have a feeling, a feeling confirmed by many soldiers, that these reinforcements are composed of soldiers unsuitable for reserves. This can happen if the company commanders have insufficient discipline, or if the company has no superiors with disciplinary powers, and discipline is performed through the chief feldwebel alone. In any case, the impression is that the soldiers sent to the front are those that are disliked by their commander, either due to their level of training, interest in service, etc.
These people bring a great danger to the front. The spirit and combat readiness of soldiers is what ensures success in battle. 
For specific forces, let me note the following:
  • Artillery: needs reinforcements, but untrained soldiers are a burden to the units.
  • Self-propelled battalion: poor terrain training, poor technical training.
  • Sapper battalion: frequently receives infantry with no sapper training. Basic infantry training is not enough.
  • AT battalion: good quality, many volunteers, but are entirely untrained in the use of the 5 cm gun.
  • Communication battalion: poorer training compared to old radio and telephone operators."
The Germans were not the only ones with these problems. The Axis Minors had them too. From CAMD RF 38-11353-349:

"Ostrogozhsk direction: enemy forces fight fiercely for Korotyak. We captured order #25 for the 7th infantry division, signed by Major-General Meze, who demands that, by August 18th [1942], all non-Hungarian soldiers be gathered in separate companies, as they have proven themselves unreliable in battle. Leave only rifles for these companies, and remove all automatic weapons."

Those problems did not improve by 1944. CAMD RF 233-2309-162, states: "Since the beginning of the operation, a very large amount (hundreds of thousands) of anti-tank grenades "Faust" (large and small) and "Ofenrohr" was discovered. Their application is negligible, barely 3% of all knocked out tanks fell to them. This is explained by the weak morale of the German infantry, shocked by our rapid advances. They run when our tanks are within 200-300 meters (the range of "Faust" is 40-50 meters)."


  1. So a bunch of undisciplined cowards without basic training captured all of europe. What is the point of this article, you find those people in any army.

    1. What is the point of your post, you find those post in any forum.
      Like you would act different when fire is opened....

    2. The point of the post is described in the first paragraph. Are you stupid?

    3. Really? I don't seem to remember all of Europe belonging to Germany in 1942

    4. The point is that I've heard a lot of ridiculous rumours about the quality of German soldiers, to the extent of "any German soldier was worth 3 Allied ones", which is obviously hilariously wrong. You might know that there are undisciplined cowards in every army, but a lot of people do not.

  2. They seem to have problems with the replacements not the original standing army ... Then again there were numerous accounts of disobedience even during the invasion of France . From all accounts it seems he who sucks less wins .

    1. The problem with the "replacements" narrative is that the bulk of the German army _was_ composed of "replacements". The actual "standing army" was only 100,000 men in size due to the Versailles treaty, and it was only expanded again after re-introducing mass conscription.

      There is very little to suggest that the German soldier was any better trained than say, the average American or Soviet conscript. A Bavarian farmboy does not really have qualities that make him intrinsically better than a Kansas or Ukrainian one.

      The edge of the German army instead rests with its officer training - especially those in the junior and operational levels - whose standards they managed to maintain despite the Versailles reduction of the peacetime army.

      - Zinegata

  3. Very well put, Zinegata.