German Army (1935–1945)

The German Army (German: Heer, German pronunciation: [ˈheːɐ̯], lit. Army) was the land forces component of the Wehrmacht,[a] the regular German Armed Forces, from 1935 until it was demobilized and later dissolved in August 1946.[2] During World War II, a total of about 13,6 million soldiers served in the German Army between 1935-45. Germany's army personnel were made up of volunteers and conscripts.

Only 17 months after Adolf Hitler announced publicly the rearmament program, the Army reached its projected goal of 36 divisions. During the autumn of 1937 two more corps were formed. In 1938 four additional corps were formed with the inclusion of the five divisions of the Austrian Army after the Anschluss in March.[3] During the period of its expansion under Hitler, the German Army continued to develop concepts pioneered during World War I, combining ground (Heer) and air (Luftwaffe) assets into combined arms forces. Coupled with operational and tactical methods such as encirclements and the "battle of annihilation", the German military managed quick victories in the two initial years of World War II, a new style of warfare described as Blitzkrieg (lightning war) for its speed and destructive power.[4]

The infantry remained foot soldiers throughout the war; artillery also remained primarily horse-drawn. The motorized formations received much attention in the world press in the opening years of the war, and were cited as the main reason for the success of the German invasions of Poland (September 1939), Norway and Denmark (April 1940), Belgium, France and Netherlands (May 1940), Yugoslavia (April 1941) and the initial stages of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). However their motorized and tank formations accounted for only 20% of the Heer's capacity at their peak strength. The army's lack of trucks (and of petroleum to run them) severely limited infantry movement, especially during and after the Normandy invasion when Allied air-power devastated the French rail network north of the Loire. Panzer movements also depended on rail, since driving a tank long distances wore out its tracks.[5]

German Army
Insignias casco
Helmet decals used by the army
Country Germany
Allegiance Adolf Hitler
TypeGround forces
SizeTotal who served: 13,600,000[1]
Part of Wehrmacht
EngagementsSpanish Civil War
World War II
Commander-in-chief of the ArmySee list
Chief of the General StaffSee list
Personnel OfficeSee list
Ranks and insigniaRanks and insignia of the Army
Standarte mot Infanterie


Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-771-0366-02A, Russland, Lagebesprechung mit Hitler
Adolf Hitler with generals Keitel, Paulus and von Brauchitsch, discussing the situation on the Eastern Front in October 1941

The Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) was Germany's Army High Command from 1936 to 1945. In theory the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) served as the military General Staff for the German Reich's armed forces, coordinating the Wehrmacht (Army Heer, Navy Kriegsmarine, and the Air Force Luftwaffe) operations. In practice OKW acted in a subordinate role as Hitler's personal military staff, translating his ideas into military plans and orders, and issuing them to the three services.[6] However, as the war progressed the OKW found itself exercising increasing amounts of direct command authority over military units, particularly in the west. This created a situation where by 1943 the OKW was the de facto command of Western Theatre forces while the Army High Command (OKH) was the same on the Eastern Front.[7]

The Abwehr was the Army intelligence organization from 1921 to 1944. The term Abwehr (German for "defense", here referring to counter-intelligence) had been created just after World War I as an ostensible concession to Allied demands that Germany's intelligence activities be for defensive purposes only. After 4 February 1938, the Abwehr's name was changed to the Overseas Department/Office in Defence of the Armed Forces High Command (Amt Ausland/Abwehr im Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).

Nazi Germany used the system of military districts (German: Wehrkreis) to relieve field commanders of as much administrative work as possible, and to provide a regular flow of trained recruits and supplies to the field forces. The method OKW adopted was to separate the Field Army (OKH) from the Home Command (Heimatkriegsgebiet), and to entrust the responsibilities of training, conscription, supply and equipment to Home Command.

Organization of the field forces

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-163-0319-03A, Griechenland, deutsche Infanterie auf dem Marsch
German soldiers in Greece, April 1941

The German Army was mainly structured in Army groups (Heeresgruppen, see Army groups of the German Army) consisting of several armies that were relocated, restructured or renamed in the course of the war. Forces or allied states as well as units made up of non-Germans were also assigned to German units.

For Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Army forces were assigned to three strategic campaign groupings:

Below the army group level forces included Field armies – (see List of World War II military units of Germany), panzer groups, which later became army level formations themselves, corps (see List of German corps in World War II), and divisions (see List of German divisions in World War II). The army used the German term Kampfgruppe which equates to the English 'combat group' or battle group. These provisional combat groupings ranged from an Army Corps size such as Army Detachment Kempf to commands composed of several companies and even platoons. They were named for their commanding officers.

Select arms of service

Doctrine and tactics

German operational doctrine emphasized sweeping pincer and lateral movements meant to destroy the enemy forces as quickly as possible. This approach, referred to as Blitzkrieg, was an operational doctrine instrumental in the success of the offensives in Poland and France. Blitzkrieg has been considered by many historians as having its roots in precepts developed by Fuller, Liddel-Hart and von Seeckt, and even having ancient prototypes practiced by Alexander, Genghis Khan and Napoleon.[8][9] Recent studies of the Battle of France also suggest that the actions of either Rommel or Guderian or both of them (both had contributed to the theoretical development and early practices of what later became blitzkrieg prior to World War II),[10][11] ignoring orders of superiors who had never foreseen such spectacular successes and thus prepared much more prudent plans, were conflated into a purposeful doctrine and created the first archetype of blitzkrieg, which then gained a fearsome reputation that dominated the Allied leaders' minds.[12][13][14] Thus 'blitzkrieg' was recognised after the fact, and while it became adopted by the Wehrmacht, it never became the official doctrine nor got used to its full potential because only a small part of the Wehrmacht was trained for it and key leaders at the highest levels either focused on only certain aspects or even did not understand what it was.[15][16][17]


The military strength of the German army was managed through mission-based tactics (Auftragstaktik) (rather than detailed order-based tactics), and an almost proverbial discipline. Once an operation began, whether offensive or defensive, speed in response to changing circumstances was considered more important than careful planning and coordination of new plans.

In public opinion, the German military was and is sometimes seen as a high-tech army, since new technologies that were introduced before and during World War II influenced its development of tactical doctrine. These technologies were featured by propaganda, but were often only available in small numbers or late in the war, as overall supplies of raw materials and armaments became low. For example, lacking sufficient motor vehicles to equip more than a small portion of their army, the Germans chose to concentrate the available vehicles in a small number of divisions which were to be fully motorized. The other divisions continued to rely on horses for towing artillery, other heavy equipment and supply-wagons, and the men marched on foot or rode bicycles. At the height of motorization only 20 per cent of all units were fully motorized. The small German contingent fighting in North Africa was fully motorized (relying on horses in the desert was near to impossible because of the need to carry large quantities of water and fodder), but the much larger force invading the Soviet Union in June 1941 numbered only some 150,000 trucks and some 625,000 horses (water was abundant and for many months of the year horses could forage – thus reducing the burden on the supply chain). However, production of new motor vehicles by Germany, even with the exploitation of the industries of occupied countries, could not keep up with the heavy loss of motor vehicles during the winter of 1941–1942. From June 1941 to the end of February 1942 the German forces in the Soviet Union lost some 75,000 trucks to mechanical wear and tear and combat damage – approximately half the number they had at the beginning of the campaign. Most of these were lost during the retreat in the face of the Soviet counter-offensive from December 1941 to February 1942. Another substantial loss was incurred during the defeat of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943. So there were periods in which the percentage of motorized units was reduced to as few as 10%.

In offensive operations the infantry formations were used to attack more or less simultaneously across a large portion of the front so as to pin the enemy forces ahead of them and draw attention to themselves, while the mobile formations were concentrated to attack only narrow sectors of the front, breaking through to the enemy rear and surrounding him. Some infantry formations followed in the path of the mobile formations, mopping-up, widening the corridor manufactured by the breakthrough attack and solidifying the ring surrounding the enemy formations left behind, and then gradually destroying them in concentric attacks. One of the most significant problems bedeviling German offensives and initially alarming senior commanders was the gap created between the fast-moving "fast formations" and the following infantry, as the infantry were considered a prerequisite for protecting the "fast formations" flanks and rear and enabling supply columns carrying fuel, petrol and ammunition to reach them.

In defensive operations the infantry formations were deployed across the front to hold the main defence line and the mobile formations were concentrated in a small number of locations from where they launched focused counter-attacks against enemy forces who had broken through the infantry defence belt. In autumn 1942, at El Alamein, a lack of fuel compelled the German commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to scatter his armoured units across the front in battalion-sized concentrations to reduce travel-distances to each sector rather than hold them concentrated in one location. In 1944 Rommel argued that in face of overwhelming Anglo-American air power, the tactic of employing the "fast formations" concentrated was no longer possible because they could no longer actually move quickly enough to reach the threatened locations because of the expected interdiction of all routes by Allied fighter-bombers. He therefore suggested scattering these units across the front just behind the infantry. His commanders and peers, who were less-experienced in the effect of Allied air power, disagreed vehemently with his suggestion, arguing that this would violate the prime principle of concentration of force.


Commissioned officers

OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) & Student officer
Nazi Germany Heer
GenFeldmarschall until 1945 (Wehrmacht).svg Generaloberst (Wehrmacht) 5.svg General (Wehrmacht).svg Generalleutnant (Wehrmacht) 2.svg Wehrmacht Generalmajor.svg Insignia Wehrmacht Heer Colonel 1.svg Insignia Wehrmacht Heer LtColonel 1.svg Insignia Wehrmacht Heer Major 1.svg Insignia Wehrmacht Heer Captain 1.svg Insignia Wehrmacht Heer Oberleutnant 1.svg Insignia Wehrmacht Heer Leutnant 1.svg
Generalfeldmarschall Generaloberst General der Waffengattung Generalleutnant Generalmajor Oberst Oberstleutnant Major Hauptmann Oberleutnant Leutnant

Officer candidates

NATO code
Nazi Germany Heer Heer-Oberfähnrich.svg Heer-Fahnenjunker-Feldwebel.svg Heer-Fähnrich.svg Heer-Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier.svg

Enlisted personnel

NATO code
OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
Nazi Germany Heer
Heer-Stabsfeldwebel.svg Heer-Oberfeldwebel.svg Heer-Feldwebel.svg Heer-Unterfeldwebel.svg No equivalent Heer-Unteroffizier.svg Rank insignia of Stabsgefreiter of the Wehrmacht.svg Rank insignia of Obergefreiter (over 6 years of service) of the Wehrmacht.svg Rank insignia of Gefreiter of the Wehrmacht.svg Rank insignia of Oberschütze of the Wehrmacht.svg No insignia
Stabsfeldwebel Oberfeldwebel Feldwebel Unterfeldwebel Unteroffizier Stabsgefreiter Obergefreiter Gefreiter Obersoldat Soldat



It is a myth that the German army in World War II was a mechanized juggernaut as a whole. In 1941, between 74 and 80 percent of their forces were not motorized, relying on railroad for rapid movement and on horse-drawn transport cross country. The percentage of motorization decreased thereafter.[19] In 1944 approximately 85 percent was not motorized.[20]


The standard uniform used by the German Army, consisted of a Feldgrau (field grey) tunic and trousers, and was worn with a Stahlhelm.

After the war

The German Army was demobilized following the unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. Confronted with a huge number of German prisoners of war after VE Day, the Western Allies kept Feldjägerkommando III, which was a regimental-sized unit of German military police, active and armed to assist with the control of the POWs under the US Army. Feldjägerkommando III remained armed and under Western Allied control until 23 June 1946, when it was finally deactivated.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Though "Wehrmacht" is often erroneously used to refer only to the Army, it actually included the Kriegsmarine (Navy) and the Luftwaffe, (Air Force).


  1. ^ Rüdiger Overmans. Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Oldenbourg 2000. ISBN 3-486-56531-1 Page 257
  2. ^ Large, David Clay (1996). Germans to the Front: West German Rearmament in the Adenauer Era, p. 25
  3. ^ Haskew, Michael. The Wehrmacht: 1923–1945, p 28.
  4. ^ Haskew, Michael. The Wehrmacht: 1923–1945, pp 61, 62.
  5. ^ Keegan, John Six Armies in Normandy, pp 156, 157.
  6. ^ Haskew, Michael. The Wehrmacht: 1923–1945, p 40, 41.
  7. ^ Harrison 2002, p. 133.
  8. ^ Rice Jr., Earle (2005). Blitzkrieg! Hitler's Lightning War. Mitchell Lane Publishers, Inc. pp. 9, 11. ISBN 9781612286976.
  9. ^ Paniccia, Arduino (Jan 14, 2014). Reshaping the Future: Handbook for a new Strategy. Mazzanti Libri - Me Publisher. ISBN 9788898109180.
  10. ^ Grossman, DAVID A. Maneuver Warfare in the Light Infantry-The Rommel Model (PDF). p. 3.
  11. ^ Lonsdale, David J. (Dec 10, 2007). Alexander the Great: Lessons in Strategy. Routledge. ISBN 9781134244829.
  12. ^ Showalter, Dennis (Jan 3, 2006). Patton And Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century. Penguin. ISBN 9781440684685.
  13. ^ D. Krause, Michael D.; Phillips, R. Cody (2006). Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art. Government Printing Office. p. 176. ISBN 9780160725647.
  14. ^ Stroud, Rick (2013). The Phantom Army of Alamein: The Men Who Hoodwinked Rommel. A&C Black. pp. 33–34. ISBN 9781408831281.
  15. ^ Caddick-Adams, Peter (2015). Snow & Steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-45. Oxford University Press. p. 17.
  16. ^ Vigor, P.H. (1983). Soviet Blitzkrieg Theory. Springer. p. 96. ISBN 9781349048144.
  17. ^ Zabecki, David T. (1999). World War Two in Europe. Taylor & Francis. p. 1175. ISBN 9780824070298.
  18. ^ a b CIA 1999, p. 18.
  19. ^ Thomas W. Zeiler; Daniel M. DuBois (2012). A Companion to World War II. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 171–172. ISBN 978-1-118-32504-9.
  20. ^ Spencer C. Tucker (2009). A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East. ABC-CLIO. p. 1885. ISBN 978-1-85109-672-5.
  21. ^ Williamson & Volstad 1989, p. 13.


  • CIA (24 August 1999). "Records Integration Title Book" (PDF). Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  • Davies, W. J. K. (1973), German Army Handbook, Ian Allan Ltd., Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0290-8.
  • Evans, Anthony A. (2005), World War II: An Illustrated Miscellany, Worth Press, ISBN 1-84567-681-5.
  • Haskew, Michael (2011), The Wehrmacht: 1935–1945, Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 1-907446-95-8.
  • Harrison, Gordon A. The Cross Channel Attack (Publication 7-4). Retrieved July 9, 2016.
  • Hastings, Max (1999) [1985], Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy 1944, Pan, ISBN 0-330-39012-0.
  • Hastings, Max (2004), Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1945, Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-90836-8.
  • Keegan, John (1982), Six Armies in Normandy, Viking Press ISBN 978-0670647361.
  • Williamson, Gordon; Volstad, Ron (1989). German Military Police Units 1939–45. London: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-902-8.


Corps colours

Corps colour[s] (German: Waffenfarbe[n]) may refer to:

Corps colours (Waffen-SS)

Corps colours of the Luftwaffe (1935–1945)

Corps colours of the Sturmabteilung

Corps colours of the German Army (1935–1945)

Corps colours (NPA)

Corps colours (Austria)

Corps colours (Waffen-SS)

Corps colours or Troop-function colours (German: Waffenfarben) were means the German Waffen-SS used to distinguish between different branches of service, corps, services, or troop functions.

The scheme of colors to indicate troop types was similar to that of the German Army from 1935 to 1945. The colours appeared mainly on the piping around the shoulder boards showing a soldier’s rank.

The table below contains some corps colours used by the SS from 1938 to 1945.


The colour of the Kragenspiegel is  black in SS and NSKK,  cinnabar-red in the staff headquarters of the so-called Motorobergruppen ("senior motor groups") and independent groups,  carmine-red in higher staff headquarters of the NSKK.

Corps colours of the German Army (1935–1945)

Corps colours, or Troop-function colours (ge: "Waffenfarbe(n)") were traditional worn in the German Wehrmacht from 1935 until 1945 as discrimination criteria between several branches, special services, corps, rank groups and appointments of the ministerial area, general staff, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, up to the military branches Heer, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. The corps colour was part of the piping, uniform gorget, shoulder strap, as well as part of the arabesque and lampasse of any general officer and flag officers. It was also part of heraldic flags, colours, standards and guidons.

Corps colours of the Luftwaffe (1935–1945)

Corps colours, or troop-function colours (ge: Waffenfarben) were traditionally worn in the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, from 1935 until 1945, to distinguish between several branches, special services, corps, rank groups and appointments of the ministerial area, general staff, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, down to the military branches Heer, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. The corps colour was part of the uniform piping, gorget patches, shoulder straps, arabesque and lampasse ornaments of general and flag officers. It was also part of the heraldic flags, colours, standards and guidons.

In the Luftwaffe, there was a strictly defined system of corps colours for collar patches, piping and coloured edging around the shoulder boards or straps. The chevrons on special clothes for Luftwaffe soldiers, e.g. flight suits and jumpsuits, also showed corps colours.


Feldunterarzt (short: FUArzt or FUA; literal: field junior surgent) was a military rank in the German Wehrmacht until 1945. It was established additional to the Unterarzt July 25, 1940. Uniform and shoulder board were identical to the Fahnenjunker-Oberfeldwebel (Oberfähnrich). However, without the double unterofficer galloons. The Gothic letter A between the two silver felwebel stars indicated the membership to the Military Surgent Academy in Berlin. The Feldunterarzt was an officer aspirant (de: Offizier-Anwärter, short OA or O.A.) in the military Health Service System (HSS).

According to the rank hierarchy it was comparable to Sergeant First Class (de: Oberfeldwebel) or Chief Petty Officer (de: Oberbootsmann) NATO-Rangcode OR-7He passed already the first surgeon or dentist medical state examination on the Military Surgent Academy, and received practical training in the medical corps or in line medical service in a military unit in the Heer or Luftwaffe. Then he turned back to the Military Surgent Academy, in order to be promoted to the Assistenzarzt, the lowest officer rank, comparable to second lieutenant (NATO OF-1b).


Generaloberstabsarzt and Admiraloberstabsarzt are the top Joint Medical Service OF8-ranks of the German Bundeswehr. The equivalent to this ranks in the Heer is Generalleutnant and in the German Navy the Vizeadmiral.


Generalstabsarzt and Admiralstabsarzt are in German armed forces the rank designations of the second highest grad of the generals rank group.

German heavy tank battalion

A German heavy tank battalion (German: "schwere Panzerabteilung", short: "s PzAbt") was an elite battalion-sized World War II tank unit of the German Army (1935–1945), equipped with Tiger I, and later Tiger II, heavy tanks. Originally intended to fight on the offensive during breakthrough operations, the German late-war realities required it to be used in a defensive posture by providing heavy fire support and counter-attacking enemy armored breakthroughs, often organised into ad hoc Kampfgruppen.

The German heavy tank battalions destroyed the total number of 9,850 enemy tanks for the loss of only 1,715 of their own, a kill/loss ratio of 5.74. The 1,715 German losses also include non-combat tank write-offs.

Ranks and insignia of the German Army (1935–1945)

The Heer as the German army and part of the Wehrmacht inherited its uniforms and rank structure from the Reichsheer of the Weimar Republic (1921–1935). There were few alterations and adjustments made as the army grew from a limited peacetime defense force of 100,000 men to a war-fighting force of several million men.

These ranks and insignia were specific to the Heer and in special cases to senior Wehrmacht officers in the independent services; the uniforms and rank systems of the other branches of the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy), were different, as were those of the SS which was a Party organization outside the Wehrmacht. The Nazi Party also had its own series of paramilitary uniforms and insignia.

Waffenfarbe (Austria)

Waffenfarbe(n), also Egalisierungsfarbe(n) (en: corps colours, or egalisation colours | i.e. colours to, on, or/and of service uniforms), are traditional used by the Federal Army of the Republic of Austria (de: Bundesheer der Republik Österreich). The collar patches (de: Kragenspiegel) of the Federal Army report traditional the rank and are also used in the police. However, any defined (particular) corps - or egalisation colour is always in correspondence to the appropriate arm of service, unit or formation.

See also

Structure of the German Army

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