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An important part of the German Army's fighting capacity was its rigorous selection process for, and equally rigorous professional education system of, both officers and noncommissioned officers, and the ability of those men to transmit combat skills to their soldiers. German divisions demonstrated an astonishing ability to rebound in a matter of weeks from shattering casualties, as long as a reasonable cadre of the officers remained to train the replacements. A mere handful of German officers accomplished apparent miracles of training and leadership. At the beginning of the war, German officers comprised only 2.86 percent of the total army strength, and declined in relative size as the war went on. By contrast, officers were 7 percent of the total strength of the U.
S. Army (growing to 15 percent by the Vietnam War). Unit consciousness and solidarity helped make the German Army an effective fighting force. German leadership capably welded individual soldiers into cohesive units such that the company was the primary group, whereas in the American Army the usual primary group was the squad or, at the largest, the platoon.
Fighting in Normandy and across France from June through September of 1944 depleted the German army in the west, literally destroying many divisions and seriously damaging more. From the equipment point of view, Field Marshal Model considered the retreat across the Seine almost as great a disaster as the Falaise Pocket. Only 100 to 120 of the 1,300 tanks and assault guns committed to the Battle of Normandy ever made it back across the Seine. The average panzer division in September had less than ten tanks. The Germans had lost an additional 15,000 vehicles of other types, with corresponding effects on tactical mobility and sustainability of forces. The paradox of Hitler's "stand fast" strategy in Normandy was this: he had used up his Panzer divisions in the hedgerows of Normandy (ideal infantry terrain), while Rommel cried for infantry. When the Allies reached good tank country, Model had nothing left with which to stop them except infantry, which was of marginal value there.
In preparation for the upcoming offensive in the Ardennes, Hitler gave orders on 2 September to raise twenty-five new divisions to become available between 1 October and 1 December. Those twenty-five and the eighteen raised in July and August were designated Volksgrenadier divisions, a title intended to appeal to national and military pride. Some of the divisions were assigned new numbers in the 500 series, but others carried numbers belonging to divisions that had been totally destroyed, for Hitler had on 10 August forbidden the practice of erasing such divisions from the army rolls.
The organization and equipment of the Volksgrenadier division reflected the German army tendency, current since 1943, to reduce manpower in combat divisions while increasing their firepower. Early in 1944, the army reduced the standard infantry division from about 17,000 to about 12,500 officers and men. The Volksgrenadier division was even smaller, at 10,000. It generally had three infantry regiments with two rifle battalions apiece and a smaller slice of organic service troops. Equipment varied with availability, but the attempt was to arm two platoons in each company with the 1944 model machine pistol, add more field artillery, and provide a slightly larger complement of antitank weapons and assault guns. The ideal of fourteen assault guns (the standard accompanying weapon for the German infantry in the attack) per division was seldom realized.
About three-fourths of the divisional transportation was horse-drawn. One unit, the Füsilier battalion, was equipped with bicycles. The Füsilier battalion customarily served as the division reserve, and replaced the reconnaissance battalion in the division organization. By 1944 it was clear that an army that customarily fought on the defensive had a diminished need for reconnaissance units.
In general, the personnel policy was to bring survivors of divisions destroyed on the eastern front to Germany, there to be used as cadres in the formation of new divisions, and finally sent to the western front as the veteran core of these inexperienced formations. Ranks were not as closely tied to position in the German Army as in the American. By 1944, division commanders were frequently colonels, but might as easily be lieutenant generals. Officers from captain through colonel commanded regiments. Generally speaking, a German Army colonel was both more senior and more experienced than his American counterpart.
Generally speaking, German weapons were superior to those issued to American soldiers.
Tanks: Until 1935 in American doctrine, the tank was essentially a machine-gun carrier that accompanied the Infantry. Experiments with mounting heavy guns in tanks did not get very far, the Chief of Infantry in 1938 declaring that a 75-mm. gun was useless in a tank. In 1940, both the rival armies fought the Battle of France with tanks armed to a 75-mm standard, and the Germans had already experimented with the 88-mm gun in a turret. In June 1940, the U.S. adopted the 75-mm gun for tanks. In the spring of 1944, as Anglo-American armies prepared for the invasion of Europe, the largest gun on an operational American tank was still a short-barrelled, low-muzzle-velocity 75-mm, the standard armament of the then-standard M4 Sherman tank. At the same time, Germany's Panther tanks carried long-barrelled, high-muzzle-velocity 75s, and the Tiger carried the 88-mm gun. To kill tanks, American doctrine relied on the tank destroyer, a fast, heavily-gunned, lightly-armored vehicle standardized as the M10 in 1942. It mounted a 3-inch, high-muzzle-velocity, flat-trajectory gun on a Sherman chassis. The need for more power to cope with German tanks brought the M18, with a 76-mm gun, into service in 1944. The M18 had a shallow open turret and was mounted on a M24 light tank chassis. The M36, an M10 redesigned to accommodate a 90-mm gun, came into service about the same time. On none of these vehicles was the armor comparable to that of German tanks. Tank destroyers, appropriately armed to be "killer tanks," lacked the armor to stand up to German tanks for the fight.
Infantry Anti-Tank Weapons. The American 2.36-inch rocket launcher, or "bazooka," was too small to penetrate the front armor of German tanks and demanded careful aim against soft spots.
This was no easy chore for an exposed, nervous infantryman when a massive German tank loomed so close that he could hear the squeak of the bogies. The Germans adopted an 88-mm Panzerfaust, a rocket-propelled shaped-charge grenade that was about twice as powerful as the American bazooka. When James M. Gavin was a colonel commanding the 505th Parachute Infantry, his men tried out the bazooka in Sicily and found it disappointing. Gavin later wrote that "As for the 82nd Airborne Division, it did not get adequate antitank weapons until it began to capture the first German panzerfausts. By the fall of '44 we had truckloads of them. We also captured German instructions for their use, made translations, and conducted our own training with them. They were the best hand-carried antitank weapon of the war." The U.S. did not even initiate a project for a more powerful, 3.5-inch rocket until August 1944.
Rifles. The Garand.30-caliber M1 semi-automatic was the best standard infantry shoulder arm of the war. No other rifle matched its combination of accuracy, rate of fire, and reliability.
Artillery. The U.S. 105-mm howitzer was at least the equal of its German counterpart of the same caliber. The effectiveness of American artillery, however, was multiplied by the best equipment and techniques of any army for fire direction, observation, and coordination.
His professional reputation did as much as his abilities to bring order out of the chaos of the German forces on the west and, aided by the Allies' supply difficulties, von Rundstedt stabilized the front.
He remained in command through the Battle of the Bulge, which was not his plan and in which he had no faith, and was finally dismissed from command in March of 1945. He died in Celle on 24 February 1953.
A soldier for more than half a century, von Rundstedt learned the lessons of World War I well and insisted on increasing fire support and mobility for the infantryman. He approved of tanks but did not envision the kind of rôle for them that such advocates as Heinz Guderian pressed for. Fluent enough in French to have passed the army's interpreter examination, he could also speak English.
Stiff, formal, dedicated to his profession, he led a simple life and was indifferent to money or possessions. Yet he was affable to subordinates, extravagantly polite to women, smoked too much, and enjoyed an occasional drink.
Unlike men such as Rommel and Guderian, he preferred to command from a headquarters, rather than from the front line. He felt that commanders at the front risked becoming so involved in the local fight that they lost perspective on the entire battle (a failing to which Erwin Rommel was occasionally prone). He refused to become immersed in details and preferred to work from a 1:1,000,000 map, from which he could take in the entire situation at a glance. Thus he depended heavily on his chief of staff, who happened to be Erich von Manstein early in the war. It was a particularly successful professional relationship.
Almost seventy years old in 1944, von Rundstedt was a soldier of the old school, widely admired by the German officer corps. Hitler disliked him intensely, partly because of the social class of officers he represented and partly because he knew that von Rundstedt referred to the Fuehrer in private as "the Corporal." By the fall of 1944, his age was showing. Many of his associates saw him for what Hitler intended him to be—a figurehead.
At SHAEF headquarters, it was Rundstedt "whom we always considered the ablest of the German generals," as Eisenhower later said. Even Bernard Montgomery, rarely given to praising other generals, said "I used to think that Rommel was good, but my opinion is that Rundstedt would have hit him for six. Rundstedt is the best German general I have come up against."
The following quotations reveal a little about the inner man:
- On the 1944 Ardennes Counteroffensive: “If old von Moltke thought that I had planned the offensive he would turn over in his grave.”
- On freedom of action: “You see the guard posted outside. If I want to post him on the other side of the house I must first ask permission of Berchtesgaden.” (Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick & COL French MacLean) _______________________________________________
Feldmarschall Otto Moritz Walter Model Commanding General, Army Group B Born 24 January 1891 in Gentheim, near Magdeburg, the son of a teacher, Model was not a member of the military aristocracy of Germany. He attended a classical gymnasium in Erfurt where he excelled in Greek, Latin and history. In 1908 he became an officer cadet in the Kriegsschule, and in 1910 he was appointed in the 52nd Infantry Regiment. He served on the western front between 1914 and 1916, was severely wounded in 1915, and attended an abbreviated general staff officer course in 1916. He returned to the front as a brigade adjutant and company commander and was again badly wounded. He served in various staff assignments from 1917 through 1919 and entered the post-war Reichswehr. He commanded a company in the 8th Infantry Regiment between 1925 and 1928, was a staff officer from 1928 through 1933, and commanded a battalion in the 2nd Infantry Regiment in 1933-1934. As a battalion commander, his favorite saying was "Can't that be done faster?" In 1934 he became commander of the 2nd Infantry. Despite not having a technical background, Model found himself appointed to the technical warfare section of the War Ministry in 1935. He was already a strong advocate of motorization and visited the Red Army to study these questions. His drive contributed to considerable progress in weapons modernization.
At the outbreak of war, he was Chief of Staff of IV Corps.
In three years of hard fighting on the eastern front, Model earned the distinction as "the Führer's Fireman" for his ingenuity which enabled him to salvage apparently hopeless situations. One of the few officers who enjoyed Hitler's complete trust, he was also appreciated by his peers. Heinz Guderian called him "a bold inexhaustible soldier... the best possible man to perform the fantastically difficult task of reconstructing the line in the center of the Eastern Front." In Russia he established a reputation as a "lion of the defense." In January 1944, at age fifty-three, he became the youngest field marshal in the German army.
As a lieutenant, Model earned a reputation as an ambitious and conscientious officer who was not afraid to speak his mind, but who formed no close fellowships with his fellow officers. That pattern characterized his entire career. Juniors regarded him as a hard taskmaster and peers thought of him as fractious. Utterly lacking tact, he freely criticized his superiors. Although he considered himself to be apolitical, he made the most of all of his contacts with the Nazi Party, developing an attitude that his fellow generals found difficult to understand. When he became an army commander he appointed a Waffen-SS officer as his aide-de-camp, which his fellow Army officers interpreted as kowtowing to the party.
Field Marshal Erich von Manstein commented on Model's extraordinary and ruthless drive, as well as his self-assurance and determination, and particularly his personal courage. "He was always to be found in the most critical sector of any front he commanded," von Manstein wrote. Units he commanded often suffered very heavy casualties. Model often issued direct orders to the smallest of units and, unlike von Rundstedt, would sometimes lead them personally into action. During the battle of the Bulge, one German lieutenant met Model near St. Vith; he wrote in his diary that "Generalfeldmarschall Model himself directs traffic... a little, undistinguished-looking man with a monocle."