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Volkssturm marching, November 1944
|Active||October 18, 1944–1945|
The Volkssturm (German pronunciation: [ˈfɔlks.ʃtʊɐ̯m], roughly "people's militia") was a German national militia of the last months of World War II. It was set up, not by the traditional German Army, but by the Nazi Party on the orders of Adolf Hitler on October 18, 1944. It conscripted males between the ages of 13 to 60 years who were not already serving in some military unit as part of a German Home Guard.
Origins and organization
The new Volkssturm drew inspiration from the old Prussian Landsturm of 1813–15, that fought in the liberation wars against Napoleon, mainly as guerrilla forces. Plans to form a Landsturm national militia in Eastern Germany as a last resort to boost fighting strength initially came from Oberkommando des Heeres chief General Heinz Guderian in 1944. Because the Wehrmacht was lacking manpower to stop the Soviet advance, men in jobs not deemed necessary or previously deemed unfit for military service were now called under arms. The Volkssturm had existed, on paper, since approximately 1925, however it was only after Hitler ordered Martin Bormann to recruit six million men for this militia that the group became a physical reality. The intended strength of six million was never attained.
Goebbels and other propagandists depicted the Volkssturm as an outburst of enthusiasm and will to resist. It did create some morale, but this was undermined by their visible lack of uniforms and weaponry for the fight. Nazi themes of death, transcendence, and commemoration were given full play to encourage the fight. However, many also realized that this was a desperate attempt to turn the course of the war. In a secret joke, the question "Why is the Volkssturm Germany's most precious resource?" was answered by: "Because its members have silver in their hair, gold in their mouth and lead in their limbs."
In order for these militia units to be effective, Hitler and Bormann counted not only on strength in numbers, but also in fanaticism. During the early stages of Volkssturm planning, it became apparent that if militia units lacked morale they would lack combat effectiveness. To achieve the envisaged fanaticism, Volkssturm units were placed under direct command of the local Nazi party, meaning local Gau- and Kreisleiters. The new Volkssturm was also to become a nation-wide organization, with Heinrich Himmler, as Replacement Army Commander, responsible for armament and training. Though normally under party control, Volkssturm units were placed under Wehrmacht command when engaging in action.
With the Nazi Party in charge of organizing the Volkssturm, each Gauleiter, or Nazi Party District Leader, was charged with the leadership, enrollment, and organization of the Volkssturm in their district. The largest Volkssturm unit seems to have corresponded to the next smaller territorial subdivision of the Nazi Party organization—the Kreis.
- A Bataillon (battalion) in every Kreis (roughly equivalent to a U.S. county; there were 920 kreise in Greater Germany)
- A Kompanie (company) in every Ortsgruppe (roughly equivalent to a U.S. Congressional district)
- A Zug (platoon) in every Zelle (literally "a cell"; roughly equivalent to a U.S. precinct)
- A Gruppe (squad) in every Block (city block)
Each Gauleiter and Kreisleiter, had a Volkssturm Chief of Staff to assist in handling militia problems.
Uniforms and insignia
The Volkssturm "uniform" was only a black armband with words Deutscher Volkssturm Wehrmacht with a series of silver collar pips pinned to the wearer's collar. These were characteristically derived from the rank insignia of the various paramilitary organizations of the Nazi Party, which had control over them, and not of the regular Wehrmacht. Although the German government tried to issue as many of its members as possible with military uniforms of all sort, ranging from field gray to camouflage, these could not be provided to all its members, thus many members of the Volkssturm wore makeshift paramilitary uniforms or uniforms from their civilian jobs (such as train conductors of the Reichsbahn). The simple paramilitary insignia of the Volkssturm were as follows:
|Volkssturm Rank||Translation||Comparative military rank|
|Volkssturmmann||People's Storm Trooper||Private|
Training and impact
Typically, members of the Volkssturm received only very basic military training. It included a brief indoctrination and training on the use of basic weapons such as the Karabiner 98k rifle and Panzerfaust. Because of continuous fighting and weapon shortages, weapon training was often minimal. There was also a lack of instructors, meaning that weapons training was sometimes done by World War I veterans drafted into service themselves. Often Volkssturm members were only able to familiarize themselves with their weapons when in actual combat.
There was no standardization of any kind and units were issued only what equipment was available. This was true of every form of equipment—Volkssturm members were required to bring their own uniforms and culinary equipment etc. This resulted in the units looking very ragged and, instead of boosting civilian morale, it often reminded people of Germany's desperate state. Armament was equally haphazard: though some Karabiner 98ks were on hand, members were also issued older Gewehr 98s and 19th-century Gewehr 71s and Steyr-Mannlicher M1888s, as well as Dreyse M1907 pistols. In addition there was a plethora of Soviet, British, Belgian, French, Italian, and other weapons that had been captured by German forces during the war. The Germans had also developed cheap but reasonably effective Volkssturm weapons, like MP 3008 machine pistols, Volkssturmgewehr 1-5 rifles and VMG-27 light machine guns. These were completely stamped and machine-pressed constructions (in the 1940s, industrial processes were much cruder than today, so a firearm needed great amounts of semi-artisanal work to be actually reliable). Being armed with leftovers compounded the Volkssturm's ineffectiveness; the large number of different ammunition types also put a strain on an already burdened logistics system (for example, the Gewehr 71s used a different type of ammunition than the two 98 rifles). In the last few months of the war, the shortages of modern firearms led to the use of weapons such as shotguns, and even muskets and crossbows taken from museums.
When units had completed their training and received armament, members took a customary oath to Hitler and were then dispatched into combat. Unlike most English-speaking countries, Germany had universal military service for all young men for several generations, so many of the older members would have had at least basic military training from when they served in the German Army and many would have been veterans of the First World War. Volkssturm units were supposed to be used only in their own districts, but many were sent directly to the front lines. Their most extensive use was during the Battle of Berlin, during which Volkssturm units fought in many parts of the city. This battle was particularly devastating to its formations, however, since many members fought to the death out of fear of being captured by the Soviets. Another important Volkssturm battle was the Battle of Königsberg.
The Battle for Berlin
In the Battle for Berlin, members of the Volkssturm (mainly young boys from the ages of 13-18 and old men) were used by the Nazi high command as a last-ditch attempt to defend Berlin. The Volkssturm had a strength of about 60,000 in the Berlin area formed into 92 battalions, of which about 30 battalions of Volkssturm I (those with some weapons) were sent to forward positions while those of Volkssturm II (those without weapons) remained in the inner city.
One notable and unusual Volkssturm unit in the Battle for Berlin was the 3/115 Siemensstadt Battalion. It comprised 770 men, mainly First World War veterans in their 50s who were reasonably fit factory workers, with experienced officers. Unlike most Volkssturm units it was quite well equipped and trained. It was formed into three rifle companies, a support company (with two infantry support guns, four infantry mortars and heavy machine guns), and a heavy weapons company (with four Soviet M-20 howitzers and a French De Bange 220 mm mortar). The battalion first engaged Soviet troops at Friedrichsfelde on April 21 and saw the heaviest fighting over the following two days. It held out until May 2 by which time it was down to just 50 rifles and two light machine guns. The survivors fell back to join other Volkssturm units. 26 men from the battalion were awarded the Iron Cross.
- Ernst Tiburzy, received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
- Otto Herzog, Knight's Cross holder.
- Hans Modrow, Premier of East Germany.
- Karl Pakebusch, Knight's Cross holder.
- Otto Dix, Modernist painter and World War I veteran.
- Martin Heidegger, German Philosopher
- German Army
- Werwolf Guerrillas
- MP 3008
- Volkssturmgewehr 1-5
- Einstossflammenwerfer 46
- Robert Edwin Hertzstein, The War That Hitler Won p246 ISBN 0-399-11845-4
- Robert Edwin Hertzstein, The War That Hitler Won p248 ISBN 0-399-11845-4
- Robert Edwin Hertzstein, The War That Hitler Won p252 ISBN 0-399-11845-4
- Hans Jürgen Massaquoi, of Liberian and German parents, had been rejected by the Jungvolk and the Wehrmacht on racial grounds, but was called by the Volkssturm. Hans J. Massaquoi, Destined to Witness, 1990.
- Tony Le Tissier (2008). Berlin battlefield guide: Third Reich & Cold War. Pen & Sword Military. p. 212. ISBN 1-84415-766-0.
- Tony Le Tissier (2003). Death was our companion: the final days of the Third Reich. Sutton. p. 121. ISBN 0-7509-3363-1.
- David K. Yelton: Hitler's Home Guard: Volkssturmmann Western Front 1944-45 (Osprey 2002)
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