The Volkssturm (German pronunciation: [ˈfɔlks.ʃtʊɐ̯m], "people's storm") was a national militia established by Nazi Germany during the last months of World War II. It was not set up by the German Army, the ground component of the combined German Wehrmacht armed forces, but by the Nazi Party on the orders of Adolf Hitler and its existence was only officially announced on 16 October 1944. It was staffed by conscripting males between the ages of 16 and 60 years who were not already serving in some military unit. The Volkssturm comprised one of the final components of the total war promulgated by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, part of a Nazi endeavor to overcome their enemies' military strength through force of will.
Volkssturm marching, November 1944
|Founded||18 October 1944|
|Disbanded||8 May 1945|
The new Volkssturm drew inspiration from the old Prussian Landsturm of 1813–1815, 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 were first proposed in 1944 by General Heinz Guderian, chief of the General Staff. The Army did not have enough men to resist the Soviet onslaught. So, additional categories of men were called into service, including those in non-essential jobs, those previously deemed unfit, over-age, or under-age, and those recovering from wounds. The Volkssturm had existed, on paper, since around 1925, but 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.
Joseph Goebbels and other propagandists depicted the Volkssturm as an outburst of enthusiasm and the will to resist. While it had some marginal effect on morale, it was undermined by the recruits' visible lack of uniforms and weaponry. Nazi themes of death, transcendence, and commemoration were given full play to encourage the fight. Many German civilians realized that this was a desperate attempt to turn the course of the war. Sardonic old men would remark, "We old monkeys are the Führer’s newest weapon" (in German this rhymes: "Wir alten Affen sind des Führers neue Waffen"). A popular joke about the Volkssturm went "Why is the Volkssturm Germany's most precious resource? Because its members have silver in their hair, gold in their mouths, and lead in their bones."
For these militia units to be effective, they needed not only strength in numbers, but also fanaticism. During the early stages of Volkssturm planning, it became apparent that units lacking morale would lack combat effectiveness. To generate fanaticism, Volkssturm units were placed under direct command of the local Nazi party officials, the Gauleiters and Kreisleiters. The new Volkssturm was also to become a nationwide organization, with Heinrich Himmler, as Replacement Army Commander, responsible for armament and training. Though nominally under party control, Volkssturm units were placed under Wehrmacht command when engaged in action. Aware that a "people's army" would not be able to withstand the onslaught of the modern army wielded by the Allies, Hitler issued the following order towards the end of 1944:
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. The basic unit was a battalion of 642 men. Units were mostly composed of members of the Hitler Youth, invalids, the elderly, or men who had previously been considered unfit for military service. [a] On 12 February 1945, the Nazis conscripted German women and girls into the auxiliaries of the Volkssturm. Correspondingly, girls as young as 14 years were trained in the use of small arms, panzerfausts, machine guns, and hand grenades from December 1944 through May 1945.
Each Gauleiter and Kreisleiter had a Volkssturm Chief of Staff.
From the militia's inception until the spring of 1945, Himmler and Bormann engaged in a power-struggle over the jurisdictional control over the Volkssturm regarding security and police powers in Germany and the occupied territories; a contest which Himmler and his SS more or less won on one level (police and security), but lost to Bormann on another (mobilizing reserve forces). Historian David Yelton described the situation as two ranking officers at the helm of a sinking ship fighting over command.
The Volkssturm "uniform" was only a black armband with the German words Deutscher Volkssturm Wehrmacht. Some variants of the above-mentioned armband worn by Volkssturm members were simply red or yellow cloth-bands with "Deutscher Volkssturm Wehrmacht" printed in black on them. On top of the identification armbands, there were black rank-patches, either with or without silver pips, worn on the collar of the Volkssturm members' uniform. 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.
The German government tried to issue as many of its members as possible with military uniforms of all sorts, ranging from field-gray to camouflage types. Most members of the Volkssturm, especially elderly members, had no uniform and were not supplied, so they generally wore either work-attire (including railway workers, policemen and firemen) or their civilian clothing and usually carried with them their own personal rucksacks, blankets and cooking-equipment, etc.
The simple paramilitary insignia of the Volkssturm were as follows:
|Volkssturm Rank||Translation||Comparative military rank||Insignia|
with Rod of Asclepius
|Volkssturmmann||People's Storm Trooper||Private|
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, such as MP 3008 machine pistols and Volkssturmgewehr rifles. 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). The Volkssturm troops were nominally supplied when and where possible by both the Wehrmacht and the SS.
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. Ultimately, it was their charge to confront the overwhelming power of the British, Canadian, Soviet, American, and French armies alongside Wehrmacht forces to either turn the tide of the war or set a shining example for future generations of Germans and expunge the defeat of 1918 by fighting to the last, dying before surrendering.[b] It was an apocalyptic goal which some of those assigned to the Volkssturm took to heart. Unremittingly fanatical members of the Volkssturm refused to abandon the Nazi ethos unto the dying days of Nazi Germany, and in a number of instances took brutal police "actions" against German civilians deemed defeatists or cowards.
On some occasions, members of the Volkssturm showed tremendous courage and a determined will to resist, more so even than soldiers in the Wehrmacht. The Volkssturm battalion 25/235 for instance, started out with 400 men but fought on until there were only 10 men remaining. Fighting at Küstrin between 30 January to 29 March 1945, militia units made up mostly of the Volkssturm resisted for nearly two months. Losses were upwards of 60 percent for the Volkssturm at Kolberg, roughly 1900 of them died at Breslau, and during the Battle of Königsberg (Kaliningrad), another 2400 members of the Volkssturm were killed. At other times along the western front particularly, Volkssturm troops would cast their arms aside and disappear into the chaos. Youthful ardor and fanaticism among Hitler Youth members fighting with the Volkssturm or an insatiable sense of duty from old men proved tragic sometimes. An example shared by historian Stephen Fritz is instructive in this case:
Not every Volkssturm unit was suicidal or apocalyptic in outlook as the war drew closer to its end. Many of them lost their enthusiasm for the fight when it became clear that the Allies had won, prompting them to lay down their weapons and surrender – they also feared being captured by Allied forces and tortured or executed as partisans. Duty to their communities and sparing their fellow Germans from atrocities like that described near Bad Windsheim also played a part in their capitulation, as did self-preservation.
Their most extensive use was during the Battle of Berlin, where Volkssturm units fought in many parts of the city. This battle was particularly devastating to its formations, however; many members fought to the death out of fear of being captured by the Soviets, holding out to the very end, which was in keeping with their covenant. Nonetheless, a force of over 2.5 million Soviet troops, equipped with 6,250 tanks and over 40,000 artillery pieces were assigned to capture the city, and the diminished remnants of the Wehrmacht were no match for them. Meanwhile, Hitler denounced every perceived "betrayal" to the inhabitants of the Führerbunker. Not eager to die what was thought to be a pointless death, many older members of the Volkssturm looked for places to hide from the approaching Soviet Army. Juxtaposed against the tragic image of Berlin holding out against all odds was the frequent exodus and capitulation of Wehrmacht soldiers and members of the Volkssturm in southern and western Germany.
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 German 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 of the few substantive fighting units left to defend Berlin was the LVI Panzer Corps, which occupied the southeastern sector of the town, whereas the remaining parts of the city were being defended by what remained of the SS, the Volkssturm, and the Hitler Youth formations.
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 21 April and saw the heaviest fighting over the following two days. It held out until 2 May, 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. Allied bombing had reduced Berlin to rubble; meanwhile the final stand in Berlin dwindled to fighting between highly trained, battle-hardened Soviet troops on the brink of final victory, who viewed resistance fighters like the Volkssturm as terrorists in much the same way the Wehrmacht once had potential partisans during Operation Barbarossa. Red Army soldiers called the Hitler Youth formations and members of the Volkssturm still fighting to the end in Berlin "totals" for being part of Germany's total mobilization effort.
While Iron Crosses were being handed out in places like Berlin, other cities and towns like Parchim and Mecklenburg witnessed old elites, acting as military commandants over the Hitler Youth and Volkssturm, asserting themselves and demanding that the defensive fighting stop so as to spare lives and property. Despite their efforts, the last four months of the war were an exercise in futility for the Volkssturm, and the Nazi leadership's insistence to continue the fight to the bitter end contributed to an additional 1.23 million (approximated) deaths, half of them German military personnel and the other half from the Volkssturm. The figure historian Stephen Fritz puts forward does not match the observations of Richard J. Evans, who reported 175,000 Volkssturm members killed fighting the professional armies of the western Allies and Soviet Union. Evans' figures are based on the card-indexed members listed, who were officially reported as killed, but Martin Sorge points out that this figure does not include the 30,000 listed as presumed missing or dead from a 1963 report.
Interrogated members of the Volkssturm—when questioned as to where the regular forces had gone—revealed that German soldiers surrendered to the Americans instead of the Red Army for fear of reprisals related to the atrocities they had committed in the Soviet Union.
Alfred Kubel (25 May 1909 in Braunschweig – 22 May 1999 in Bad Pyrmont) was a German politician; in his later career, he was a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.In 1928, after attending Middle School, Kubel became an industrial clerk. He had, in 1925, joined a trade union and the Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund, a left-wing political party, and in 1933 he became active in resistance to the Nazis. Kubel was arrested in 1937 and was convicted to a one-year prison term for preparation of high treason. He was drafted into the Volkssturm, a branch of the military, in 1944, and deserted soon thereafter.
In May 1946, after having joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Kubel was appointed prime minister of Braunschweig by the British occupation forces; he held this position until the state was merged into Lower Saxony in November 1946. From 1951 to 1955 and from 1957 to 1970, he had various cabinet-level positions in the government of Lower Saxony. As minister, he also served on the Volkswagen Group's advisory board from 1965 to 1970.Kubel was Minister President of Lower Saxony from 1970 to 1976; as such, he served as President of the Bundesrat in 1974/75.Ballad of the Little Soldier
Ballad of the Little Soldier (German: Ballade vom kleinen Soldaten) is a 1984 documentary film directed by Werner Herzog about children soldiers in Nicaragua. The film focuses on a group of Miskito Indians who used children soldiers in their resistance against the Sandinistas.
Herzog made and co-directed the film at the request of his friend Denis Reichle, who himself served as a child-soldier in the Volkssturm at age fourteen in the aftermath of World War II. The film is often cited as Herzog's most explicitly political, though Herzog denies that he had any specific statement on the politics of the Sandinistas. Herzog has said that the film is about child soldiers, and could have been made in any of several countries where child soldiers exist.Bataillonsführer
Bataillonsführer is a German paramilitary title that has existed since the First World War. Originally, the title of Bataillonsführer was held by the officer commanding an infantry battalion (most often a Major). After the close of World War I, the title became one of several paramilitary ranks in the Freikorps.
The last usage of Bataillonsführer, as a paramilitary title, was in 1945 when the position was held by battalion commanders of Volkssturm units.Einstossflammenwerfer 46
The Einstossflammenwerfer 46 was a hand held single shot flamethrower designed in Germany during the second half of World War II and introduced in 1944; it was engineered to be both cheap and easily mass-produced. The disposable weapon fired a half-second burst of flame of up to 27 metres (89 ft).
It was issued to the Volkssturm or the Werwolf movement, but also used by the Fallschirmjäger (German paratroopers).Fritz Pliska
Fritz Pliska (20 December 1915 – 28 August 1995) was a German footballer and coach in the German Bundesliga and in the Dutch Eerste Divisie. During World War II, he served as an officer in the Wehrmacht and was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.Gau Pomerania
The Gau Pomerania (German: Gau Pommern) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 in the Prussian province of Pomerania. Before that, from 1931 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area. Most of the Gau became part of Poland after the Second World War while the remainder became part of what would become East Germany.Gruppenführer
Gruppenführer ([ˈɡʀʊpn̩.fyːʀɐ], "group leader") was an early paramilitary rank of the Nazi Party (NSDAP), first created in 1925 as a senior rank of the SA. Since then, the term Gruppenführer is also used for leaders of groups/teams of the police, fire departments, military and several other organizations.HIW VSK
The HIW VSK was a carbine of German origin developed by Hessische Industrie Werke. It was intended as a Volkssturm weapon and used blow forward operation.Henschel Hs 297
The Henschel Hs 297 Föhn or 7.3 cm Raketen Sprenggranate was a small German surface-to-air rocket of the Second World War. The associated multiple rocket launcher was known as the 7.3 cm Föhn-Gerät.Home guard
Home guard is a title given to various military organizations at various times, with the implication of an emergency or reserve force raised for local defense.
The term "home guard" was first officially used in the American Civil War, starting with units formed by German immigrants in Missouri, and may derive from possible historic use of the term Heimwehr ("home guard") to describe units officially known as Landwehr ("country guard"), or from an attempted translation of landwehr.Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), or simply the Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz), and its variants were the highest awards in the military and paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.
The Knight's Cross was awarded for a wide range of reasons and across all ranks, from a senior commander for skilled leadership of his troops in battle to a low-ranking soldier for a single act of military valour. Presentations were made to members of the three military branches of the Wehrmacht; the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air Force), as well as the Waffen-SS, the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD—Reich Labour Service) and the Volkssturm (German national militia), along with personnel from other Axis powers.
The award was instituted on 1 September 1939, at the onset of the German invasion of Poland. A higher grade, the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, was instituted in 1940. In 1941, two higher grades of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves were instituted: the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords and the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. At the end of 1944 the final grade, the Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, was created. Over 7,000 awards were made during the course of the war.List of Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross recipients (U)
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) and its variants were the highest awards in the military and paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany during World War II. The decoration was awarded for a wide range of reasons and across all ranks, from a senior commander for skilled leadership of his troops in battle to a low-ranking soldier for a single act of extreme gallantry. A total of 7,321 awards were made between its first presentation on 30 September 1939 and its last bestowal on 17 June 1945. This number is based on the acceptance by the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR). Presentations were made to members of the three military branches of the Wehrmacht—the Heer (Army), Kriegsmarine (Navy) and Luftwaffe (Air Force)—as well as the Waffen-SS, the Reich Labour Service, and the Volkssturm (German national militia). There were also 43 foreign recipients of the award.These recipients are listed in the 1986 edition of Walther-Peer Fellgiebel's book, Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945. Fellgiebel was the former chairman and head of the order commission of the AKCR. In 1996, the second edition of this book was published with an addendum delisting 11 of these original recipients. Author Veit Scherzer has cast doubt on a further 193 of these listings. The majority of the disputed recipients had received the award in 1945, when the deteriorating situation of Germany during the final days of World War II left a number of nominations incomplete and pending in various stages of the approval process.Listed here are the 32 Knight's Cross recipients whose last name starts with "U". Scherzer has challenged the validity of one listing. The recipients are ordered alphabetically by last name. The rank listed is the recipient's rank at the time the Knight's Cross was awarded.Reichsjugendführer
Reichsjugendführer ("National Youth Leader") was the highest paramilitary rank of the Hitler Youth. In 1931, Hitler appointed Baldur von Schirach as the first Reich Youth Leader. In 1933, all youth organizations were brought under Schirach's control. Artur Axmann succeeded Schirach as national leader of the Hitler Youth on 8 August 1940.Volksgrenadier
Volksgrenadier was the name given to a type of German Army division formed in the Autumn of 1944 after the double loss of Army Group Center to the Soviets in Operation Bagration and the Fifth Panzer Army to the Allies in Normandy. The name itself was intended to build morale, appealing at once to nationalism (Volk) and Germany's older military traditions (Grenadier). Germany formed 78 VGDs during the war. Volksgrenadier divisions were professional military formations with effective weapons and equipment, unlike the unrelated Volkssturm militia.Volkssturmgewehr
The Volkssturmgewehr ("People's Assault Rifle") is the name of several rifle designs developed by Nazi Germany during the last months of World War II. They share the common characteristic of being greatly simplified as an attempt to cope with severe lack of resources and industrial capacity in Germany during the final period of the war.
The weapon's name can be translated directly either as "People's assault rifle" or "Volkssturm rifle." Volkssturm, the German late war militia home defense force, means "People's Assault"; Sturmgewehr translates as "assault rifle" ("Sturm" or "-sturm" has the primary meaning of storm).Volkssturmmann
Volkssturmmann was a paramiltiary rank of the Volkssturm, the German militia created to defend the German homeland in the last months of World War II. The rank of Volkssturmmann carried no special uniform or insignia and the title was merely held by any person who was drafted to serve in the Volkssturm. The next senior rank of Volkssturmmann was that of Gruppenführer (Corporal).
Nazi Germany's last-ditch effort to defend the fatherland during World War II was dependent on the Volkssturm ranks. The Volkssturm, or "people's storm" took any able body, man or boy, ages 15–65. In most cases the Volkssturm was elderly men and Hitler Youth fanatics. Unfortunately, for Nazi Germany, the Volkssturm was an ineffective force that was inadequately equipped, trained or disciplined.
In the closing months of World War II, the Volkssturm forces were most prominent along the defenses at the Rhine River and during the Battle of Berlin. Even though the use of the Volkssturm was a clear indication of a defeated nation, Nazi propaganda glorified the "people's storm" as a force that would turn the tide in the war effort. Hitler would proclaim that although the once vast Nazi empire had diminished the fatherland could never be penetrated. Joseph Goebbels also contributed heavily to Nazi propaganda. Goebbel's numerous speeches and opportunistic outlook called upon the German people to take up arms during the last months of World War II.
The Volkssturm's main objective was to halt the advance of allied forces. During the last months of World War II, the western front faced American and British forces while the eastern front faced the Soviet army. By 1945, both western and eastern fronts had reached or entered the German homeland. Since the Volkssturm's goal was to halt the advance of enemy infantry and armored forces, the Volkssturmmann was trained to use the panzerfaust, an anti-tank weapon, and the machine gun. The use of these weapons was simple and required little training. Furthermore, the panzerfaust and machine gun were some of the last munitions that the German war machine had in vast supply.
Although glorified by the Nazi Party as the defenders of the fatherland, the Volkssturm was Germany's failed attempt to replenish their depleted forces. Grandfathers and boys took up arms and fought to the death under the belief that, in the last months of the war, final victory was still possible. This disillusionment continued the war and established the Volkssturmmann as the "people's army".Volunteer Fighting Corps
Volunteer Fighting Corps (国民義勇戦闘隊, Kokumin Giyū Sentōtai) were armed civil defense units planned in 1945 in the Empire of Japan as a last desperate measure to defend the Japanese home islands against the projected Allied invasion during Operation Downfall (Ketsugo Sakusen) in the final stages of World War II.
They were the Japanese equivalent of the German Volkssturm. Its Commander-in-Chief was former Prime Minister General Koiso Kuniaki.Walther-Peer Fellgiebel
Walther-Peer Fellgiebel (7 May 1918 – 14 October 2001) was a German author and a key member of the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients.Zugführer (military)
Zugführer is a military appointment to a sub-subunit leader, e.g. platoon leader, belonging to the Non-commissioned officer (NCO) rank group or junior officer. A Zugführer leads or commands normally a subunit that is called in German language Zug (en: platoon, platoon-size unit, or detachment).
Ranks, uniforms and insignia of Nazi Germany
|Ranks and insignia|