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"The German Volkssturm" from Intelligence Bulletin, February 1945

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Report on the German Volkssturm, a German national militia organized in the last months of WWII, from Intelligence Bulletin, February 1945.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information published for Allied soldiers. More accurate information is available in postwar publications.]



Of the measures taken to mobilize speedily the last manpower resources of the German nation, the most extreme is the creation of the Volkssturm, a national militia designed to supplement the defense of the homeland. The call to arms, which was issued on 18 October 1944, was literally a dragnet, sweeping into a single organization virtually all German males between the ages of 16 and 60 who were not already members of the German Armed Forces. The creation of the Volkssturm serves a double purpose, as far as the Nazi Party is concerned: first, to strengthen the defense of the Reich, and, second, to keep a large part of the population so thoroughly under military control that any incipient revolt against the Party will have a hard time thriving. It is the enemy's intention to have a strong hard core of Nazi fanatics dominating the Volkssturm at all levels.

In announcing the formation of the new militia, Hitler designated the Chief of the Storm Troopers, Schepmann, as Inspector of Weapons Training, and the Chief of the Nazi Motor Corps, Kraus, as Inspector of Technical Training. Himmler is charged with ordering the actual employment of the Volkssturm for local defense. However, it must be remembered that the militia is currently in the training stage, with its members continuing their ordinary jobs. When the Volkssturm is operating on a full-time basis, its employment may be directed by the Army.

The Volkssturm is definitely a bottom-of-the-barrel organization. Although it may succeed in mustering more than ten million men for local defense inside the Reich, a conservative estimate indicates that less than half of these will be physically fit.

[Whether dressed in civilian clothes or varied uniforms, Volkssturm members wear the organization's arm band.]
Whether dressed in civilian clothes or varied uniforms, Volkssturm members wear the organization's arm band.

In one capacity or another, many of the Volkssturm personnel already were contributing their services to the German war effort when the call to arms was issued. It will be recalled that dozens of Nazi semi-military, service, and political organizations, regimenting practically every walk of German life, had been in existence for some time. Because of these organizations, and because Nazi Party officialdom itself is so extensive that it even includes city "block leaders", the Nazi authorities long had had a very fair knowledge of the military and service possibilities of every male in Germans. Much had been done to exploit German manpower on a part-time basis wherever full-time service could not be performed. Thus service in the Volkssturm becomes merely an added duty for men who already have part-time jobs in other defense organizations or who work in war industries. As the Germans envisage it, a man who performs ARP tasks during an air raid, who has a route to patrol as a member of the Stadtwacht (City Guard), or who is a skilled laborer in a Messerschmidt plant will take his post in a Volkssturm squad and fight as an infantryman when his home area is attacked by Allied ground forces.

It is logical to infer that, as Volkssturm units are being formed, the abilities, physical fitness, and war work of the recruits will be taken into account. Limited-service personnel will be given local or static defense missions. Invalids and cripples, it is reported, will be reserved for headquarters work. Although youths of 16 are to be included in the Volkssturm, the lower age brackets in general are likely not to be represented very generously, in view of the fact that the German Armed Forces increasingly are drafting men younger than 18. Also, if a Volkssturmmann is drafted into the Armed Forces, his membership in the militia automatically terminates.

Despite the fact that the Volkssturm is inducting by age classes, an appeal for "volunteers" is being conducted in the usual Nazi manner. Working through the factory cells of the German Labor Front organization and other groups directly supervised by the Party, Nazi leaders have induced the entire personnel of certain factories and businesses to "volunteer" in a body, with the result that recruits pour in as fast as the training facilities can handle them, and faster than if they all had been drafted formally.

[German males between the age of 16 and 60 are liable for service in the new national militia.]
German males between the age of 16 and 60 are liable for service in the new national militia.

With the Nazi Party in charge of organizing the Volkssturm, the early stages in the development of this national militia have been expedited. Although each Gauleiter, or Nazi District Leader, is charged with the leadership, enrollment, and organization of the Volkssturm in his district, the largest Volkssturm unit seems to correspond to the next smaller territorial subdivision of the Nazi Party organization—the Kreis. In a city, Volkssturm organization might run something like this:

Territorial Political Unit      Military Unit
Kreis (roughly equivalent to a U.S.
      county; there are 920 kreise
      in Greater Germany)
Bataillon (battalion)
Ortsgruppe (roughly equivalent to a
      U.S. Congressional district)
Kompanie (company)
Zelle (literally "a cell"; roughly
      equivalent to a U.S. precinct)
   Zug (platoon)
Block (a city block) Gruppe (squad)

Not only each Gauleiter, but each Kreisleiter, has a Volkssturm Chief of Staff to assist in handling militia problems.

Although differentials may be introduced in the selection and assignment of personnel, Nazi leaders assert that all Volkssturm members will be given the same instruction. This is to consist of infantry training, with special emphasis on close combat. The rifle is the basic weapon. It is to be supplemented by submachine guns and light machine guns. Since there is almost no limit to the number of models of such weapons taken over by the Germans from conquered nations, it would be difficult to state exactly which small-arms models the Volkssturm will use. German, Czech, and Polish Mauser rifles already are in service, and use will be made of the many thousands of captured Russian rifles and machine guns. Other equipment includes egg hand grenades and potato-masher hand grenades. For antitank defense, the Panzerfaust hollow-charge launchers have been promised to the Volkssturm. (The latest of these recoilless weapons has a range of 88 yards; earlier models have a range of only 33 yards.) German bazookas also may be furnished. Instruction in the handling of antitank and antipersonnel mines already is being given.

[The rifle is the basic weapon of the Volkssturm, which receives infantry training, with special emphasis on close combat.]
The rifle is the basic weapon of the Volkssturm, which receives infantry training, with special emphasis on close combat.

At present any turnout of the Volkssturm is likely to present a rag-tag-and-bobtail appearance, in dress as well as armament. The only item of clothing or insignia currently issued is a black arm band with the lettering "Deutscher Volkssturm" in a light color and with the word "Wehrmacht" directly underneath this. The Nazis have asserted that this arm band officially makes the Volkssturm members a part of the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces). It is left to the individual to provide the rest of the clothing. Uniforms of the Storm Troopers, Hitler Youth, and Party territorial leaders will be encountered. Many men will simply wear civilian clothes. Already the lack of complete official uniform has caused a great deal of disgruntlement throughout the new militia. Many members feel that they are assuming the duties of soldiers, with none of the privileges. (Incidentally, there is no remuneration for service in Volkssturm, except when a member is taking part in actual combat.)

The effectiveness of the Volkssturm remains to be tested. In the past, organized defense of urban and rural areas by the local populace fighting in support of regular troops has indicated that a people defending their homes under such conditions are capable of putting up a most determined defense. Volkssturm elements were used in combat near Metz, but the poor showing that they made must be attributed primarily to the fact that they had only recently been mustered and that most of their brief time in the militia had been spent in digging fortifications. In future months the Nazis will discover and try to correct the outstanding defects of the Volkssturm, and their unquestioned talent for organization and military training must be expected to show at least a few tangible results. Just how much success the Nazis will have in using Volkssturm members as guerrilla fighters after local areas have been overrun by the Allies cannot be predicted. Much would seem to depend on how hard a core of Nazi fanatics each element contains.

[Note: As the Intelligence Bulletin goes to press, it is reported that rank insignia worn by the Volkssturm consist of silver stars worn on the lapel or on the collar. One star will indicate a squad leader, two a platoon leader, three a company commander, and four a battalion commander.]

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