German Soldier Equipment and Weaponry

The most important part of World War II German soldier equipment was his weaponry, which consisted of a bolt-action 98K Mauser rifle, a bayonet, and hand and stick grenades. The bayonet, as a belt weapon, belonged to dress as well as combat uniforms for all servicemen and non-commissioned officers up to the rank of sergeant and were also carried by mounted soldiers. The rifle squad and platoon leaders were armed with an MP40 Schmeisser sub-machine gun; the squad gunners with a light machine gun (MG 34 or MG 42 Maschinengewehr); the sapper equipment included a flamethrower (Flammenwerfer 35); the German paratrooper (Fallschirmjäger) weaponry comprised the FG 42 automatic assault rifle; and, from 1943, the "Sturmgewehr" automatic assault rifle was part of the Waffen-SS soldier fighting equipment.

Among the standard equipment of the German infantry soldier was a black leather belt with a buckle that bore the eagle emblem and the motto "Gott mit uns" (God with us), as well as a sliding leather holster for side arms. On either side of the belt buckle were two black leather three-section bullet pouches, each of which could hold 30 bullets. On the right rear of the belt, the musette bag was fastened with two loops and a hook. It held the daily ration of cold food, a small round bakelite container for butter or fat, rifle-cleaning tools, spare ammunition, and at first also the "iron ration", consisting of a small bag with 500 grams of hard zwieback in small pieces and a 200-gram can of meat. It could be eaten only under orders in cases of the most extreme need, which soon proved to be unrealistic after the beginning of the eastern campaign. Fastened to the musette bag by a strap was the felt-covered three-quarter-liter field flask with a field cup carried over it.

The German soldier equipment also included a spade carried in an open leather carrier, hanging at the left rear of the leather belt. This hand spade was not only used to dig a foxhole and trenching tasks, but it was also used as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat. On the left side too, the Model 30 gas mask was carried on a thin cloth belt over the right shoulder. For gas protection there was also a packet of Losantine tablets for use against the chemical warfare agent Lost. Before battle, the field cap was exchanged for the dull gray steel helmet (Stahlhelm), which otherwise usually hung on the front of the belt over one of the two bullet pouches. The steel helmet was the standard Model 35 with two shield-shaped emblems, the colors of the Reich on the right and the service insignia on the left side. The steel helmet was made of smooth sheet steel, 1.1 to 1.2mm thick, and was made in five sizes; it weighed 1.34 kg. Later in the war the application of the two symbols was eliminated, for the use of camouflage covers made these emblems superfluous.

But that did not complete the marching and fighting equipment of the German infantry soldier. There was also the assault kit.1 This consisted of a leather harness that was attached to the belt at the front by two straps at the left and right and became a wider strap in the back that was likewise attached to the belt. To this harness there could be fastened, on the soldier’s back: the two-part cooking utensil with lid and folding handle of aluminum (capacity 1.5 liters), with three eating utensils. If the cooking pot was not used to hold food, then it contained a cloth bundle of washing and shaving implements. Also fastened to the harness was the tent square, folded around the cooking utensils; along with the field flask and cooking utensils, this was one of the most indispensable pieces of equipment. The tent square (Zeltbahn), with a weight of 1.27 kg, was of triangular form, measuring 202 x 202 cm on the sides and 240cm along the bottom, and was made of waterproof fabric.

German Rifle Platoon

The German rifle platoon of World War II was composed of the platoon leader, platoon troop, four ten-man rifle squads, light grenade-launcher troop and drivers, with a total strength of 50 men. The platoon leader of the first platoon in a company was a Lieutenant, whose equipment consisted of a machine pistol (MP40 Schmeisser) with two magazine pouches, 6 x 30 binoculars, message case, compass and flashlight. The platoon troop that led the platoon consisted of the platoon troop leader (Unteroffizier – non-commissioned officer), and three messengers, all armed with K98 Mauser rifles; later the third messenger was also given a telescopic sight that could be attached to his rifle for sharpshooting. One medic, armed with a pistol, also belonged to the platoon troop; his equipment consisted of a belt attached medical kit, plus a water bottle and a medical pack with supplies on his backpack to treat minor wounds or injuries, marked with a large red cross. The platoon troop also carried amongst themselves, wire cutters, flare pistol, signal flags and a small flashing light for optical communication (Blinkgeràt).

The each of the rifle squads was composed of 10 men: a squad leader, 3 gunners, and 6 riflemen. The light grenade launcher (mortar) troop with its troop leader and gunners 1 and 2 carried the troop’s high-angle fire weapon, the 5-caliber light grenade launcher 36. The troop leader carried a rifle, binoculars, message case, three leg brace for the launcher, and in combat an ammunition box with ten grenades. Gunner 1, armed with a pistol, had the bottom plate, Gunner 2, likewise armed with a pistol, had the barrel of the launcher – both were carried on their backs. The launcher gunners also each carried two ammunition cases by hand. The grenade launcher was set up on its three legs and either aimed at a target or "zeroed in" with a few shots.

The firepower of the German rifle platoon consisted of 5 machine pistols, 4 light machine guns, 11 pistols, 34 rifles and one light grenade launcher. For these weapons, a primary ammunition supply of 1048 machine pistol and pistol rounds, 4600 machine gun rounds, 2040 rifle rounds, about 60 hand grenades and 50 launcher grenades had to be carried into battle. At the beginning of the war, there was a two-horse wagon (HF 1) with a driver for ever rifle platoon; on the march, they carried the light machine guns, the grenade launcher, tripods, hand grenades, tools, long trenching tools, tripwire, gun-cleaning tools, means of camouflage, and especially the ammunition not carried by the men. When they went into battle, the command "Equipment off!" ("entfaltete!") was given and the machine guns and grenade launcher, including the ammunition to be carried with them, were unloaded and taken over by the appropriate gunners.

In battle, the rifle platoon deployed into a wide wedge, with three rifle squads in front and one following them, or to a pointed wedge with one squad in front and three in back. The platoon leader and platoon troop always followed in the middle, from where the platoon leader could give his signals to the groups by voice, whistle, hand signals or messengers. The platoon was capable of handling larger combat tasks such as shocktroop operations and the like.

German Rifle Squad (Schützengruppe)

The rifle squad (Schützengruppe) was the smallest unit of the German Army infantry, with its white distinguishing color (waffenfarbe). With a strengh of 1 officer and 9 men, the German rifle squad consisted of the squad leader and nine riflemen. During the course of the war, this strength naturally dropped, often to seven or six men. When World War II broke out in 1939, the squad leader was still armed with a rifle, but from 1941 he was issued a sub-machine gun (MP38 or MP40 Schmeisser). Among his equipment were two pouches, each with 3 MP magazines (32 rounds each), which were carried on either side of his belt, plus 6 x 30 binoculars, message bag, flashlight, marching compass and signal whistle. The squad leader, at first always a non-commissioned officer, in the later years of the war sometimes an experienced Obergefreiter (Senior Lance Corporal), was not only the leader of his men but also their defender, responsible for them day and night, handling all great and small needs and problems, a fixed point in all critical situations and a comrade among comrades. If he proved himself as a soldierly and human example on good and bad days alike, then the whole group was good; if he was not, then his men usually failed as well.

The rifle squad gunner (Schütze) # 1 was its "sharpest-shooting" man. He carried and operated the light machine gun (MG 34, later MG 42) with its detachable parts and a 50-round belt. Also part of his armament and equipment were a Type 08 pistol (later a 38 pistol) with one 8-round magazine, the machine-gun tool kit, with spare parts and cleaning tools on his belt, and sunglasses. Gunner 1 fired offensively and defensively, with the gun supported on a bipod either in front or in the middle, and during an attack or penetration, with the bipod folded up, firing the MG from the hip as he went. Gunner # 2 carried, on a carrying strap, the first ammunition supply of four 50-round ammunition drums (weighing 2.45 kg per drum) as well as an ammunition box with 300 rounds (weighing 11.53 kg), plus a sheet-metal barrel protector with two spare barrels. For short-range defense he also carried a pistol. Thus Gunner 2 was Gunner l’s assistant with the MG. He supported the machine-gunner by supplying ammunition, changing a barrel or breech, and by removing hindrances. If Gunner 1 fell, he took the firing position behind the gun himself.

Gunner #3 was the ammunition gunner for the MG. He was armed with a rifle and had the job of carrying two full ammunition boxes of 300 rounds each on either side, hanging on a strap. Early in the war he also had to handle the machine-gun tripod, unloaded from the army truck, in case of danger from the air, but later this was not used. But as the strength of the squad decreased, the role of Gunner 3 was eliminated. The ammunition boxes were then divided among the squad and had to be carried by individual soldiers in turn.

The remaining six men of the squad, including the deputy squad leader (Gruppenführer), were all shooters, armed with rifles. In the two belt supported ammunition pouches they carried 45 rounds, in clips of five rounds each, and in battle 15 more rounds from the truck. In addition, each man carried two or three hand grenades. Stick grenades (so called "Potato Mashers") were carried on the front of the belt or stuck into the boot tops, while hand grenades were carried in the musette bag or the trouser pockets.

In an attack, the German rifle squad deployed into the "rifle row" and "rifle chain" formations, normally with a distance of ten paces from man to man, which could also be increased depending on enemy action. An experienced battle group went into an attack spread out, supported each other mutually with fire, especially with the light machine gun, and penetrated enemy positions tightly grouped while firing the machine pistols and machine gun, throwing hand grenades, and shouting. Their battle cry provided much moral support and in numerous cases caused the enemy to give up his defense early. The squad could also handle small tasks such as guarding, scouting, etc. The squad was not just a battle unit, but also a unit sworn to accept its fate; every member knew every other member inside and out, shared his joys and sorrows, and developed a true camaraderie that – as with all other units – has maintained unbroken to this day.

German Infantry Division (WWII)

The German Infantry Division of World War II consisted of approximately 16,000 men, who were organized in 3 Infantry Regiments, each with an intelligence platoon; 1 Infantry Gun Company, armed with six light 75mm and two heavy 150mm guns; 3 Panzerjäger Companies, armed with twelve 36mm anti-tank guns, and 12 light machine guns; 1 Heavy Battalion equipped with mortars and machine guns; 1 Artillery Regiment; 1 Engineer Battalion, whose weapons included flamethrowers; 1 Intelligence Unit with a telephone company and a radio company; 1 Medical Services Unit with two medical companies. The Panzerjäger Company of the German Infantry Division was a motorized units composed of 3 battalions each with 3 rifle companies. The Division had a divisional staff with motorcycle courier platoon, and a map office. The smallest unit of the German Infantry Division was the rifle squad (Schützengruppe), which consisted of the squad leader and nine riflemen, and thus had a strength of 1 officer and 9 men; during the course of the war, this strength naturally dropped, often to six or five men.

The number of men and structure of the German Infantry Division varied during the course of the war.

Wehrmacht

The Wehrmacht was the official designation for the three German Armed Forces during the Third Reich, replacing the Reichswehr. Created in 1935, the Wehrmacht was composed of the Army (Heer, in German), the Navy (Kriegsmarine), and the Air Force (Luftwaffe). It did not include the Waffen-SS, which was the armed branch of the SS and the Nazi Party. The German term “Wehrmacht” is composed of two words: “Wehr”, which means defense, and “macht”, which means power.

In the 1920s, during the Weimar Republic, the name of the German Armed Forces was Reichswehr, whose strength was limited to 100,000 men by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1933, when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, all officers and soldiers of the Reichswehr had to swear a personal oath of loyalty to the Führer. In March 1935, military service was reestablished in Germany, violating what had been stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles. When this new Conscription Law was passed by the Reichstag, the name Wehrmacht was introduced. Officially, the creation of the Wehrmacht was announced on October 15, 1935.

The supreme commander of the Wehrmacht was Adolf Hitler. At the beginning, administration and military authority lay with the war ministry under Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg, but in 1938 the ministry was dissolved and was replaced by the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) under Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel. The Supreme Command of the Army, the Supreme Command of the Navy, and the Supreme Command of the Air Force lay under the military jurisdiction of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht.

After the war, in 1945, the Wehrmacht was abolished by the Allies, but in 1955, when the western Federal Republic of Germany came into existence, its armed forces were renamed the Bundeswehr.