Small arms of the Deutscher Volkssturm part I: Nazi leaders, many of whom already had their tickets punched for Argentina, preached last-ditch resistance to the German people, and provided a motley assortment of tools for the purpose.
On the eastern front, the resurgent Red Army had pushed the Wehrmacht back into Poland and the Balkans, inflicting massive casualties and destroying untold numbers of armored vehicles. German atrocities in Russia meant Soviets troops felt free to exact revenge both on German troops and civilians who fell into their hands. (1)
In a desperate attempt to slow the Russian steamroller, the German government decided to a create a people's militia composed of all men between the ages of 16 to 60 who had, up until that time, been exempt from military duty, whatever the reason.
After much discussion, it was decided to bestow the properly National Socialist sounding designation Deutscher Volkssturm (German People's Assault) upon this new organization. This was probably derived from the Prussian Landsturm of 1813-1815, that fought in the liberation wars against Napoleon, mainly as guerrilla forces.
Instead of being under the control of the Wehrmacht (some members of which had recently been involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler) the Volkssturm was to be a Nazi party organization under the control of SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler while day-today organization was relegated to SS Obergruppenfuhrer Gottlob Berger. SS Obergruppenfuhrer Hans Juttner was given the unenviable task of arming and equipping the new force.
Nazi German was divided in districts called Gaue and each Gauleiter, or Nazi Party district leader, was charged with the leadership, enrollment, and organization of the Volkssturm in his Gau, a task that many of them went to great lengths to avoid, delegating the task to underlings.
The basic unit was planned to be a battalion of 642 men with local organization as follows:
--a Battalion in every Kreis (roughly equivalent to a U.S. county; there were 920 kreise in Germany).
--a Kompanie (company) in every Ortsgruppe (roughly equivalent to a U.S. Congressional district).
--a Zug (platoon) for each Zelle (literally "a cell"; equivalent to a U.S. precinct).
--a Gruppe (squad) for every city block.
Each Gauleiter and Kreisleiter, had a Volkssturm Chief of Staff to assist in handling militia problems.
Karabiner 98k Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 43.7 inches Barrel length: 23.6 inches Weight: 8.4 pounds Magazine: Five-round charger-loaded box Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear-V-notch adjustable by tangent from 100 to 2000 meters Bayonet: Knife-style with a 10-inch single-edged blade
RIFLES OF THE VOLKSSTURM
While the German army's ordnance department, the Heereswaffenamt, realized from the very beginning that it would be impossible to do so, the stated intention was to equip the Volkssturm with standard Wehrmacht small arms, and in the area of rifles this meant the Karabiner 98k.
A shortened version of the Infanteriegewehr 98 of World War I fame (see below), the Karabiner 98k was the Wehrmacht's primary battle rifle in World War II and was manufactured by Waffenfabrik Mauser, Feinmechanische Werke, Gustloff Werke, J.P. Sauer & Sohn, Berlin-Luebecker Maschinenfabriken, Erfurter Maschinenfabriken, Steyr-Daimler-Puch and the CZ factory in occupied Czechoslovakia.
Beginning in 1944 the Karabiner 98 Kriegsmo dell was adopted to speed up production. It had a crude stock and overall finish The bolt was simplified, fittings were sheet-metal, it lacked a cleaning rod and bayonet lug and, in some late production rifles, had a simple fixed rear sight. But production still lagged behind demand and, as would be the case with most equipment, the Volkssturm received only limited numbers of Karabiner 98k in addition to some Czech Puska vz. 24 Mausers.
There is some photographic evidence that the Volkssturm were issued a small number of Germany's most modern infantry rifles, the semiauto Karbiner 43 and selective-fire Sturmgewehr 44, the latter being prominent as it was the very first "assault rifle" and the first to use an intermediate cartridge. It is quite likely that most photos of Volksstrurmmanner thus armed were taken for propaganda purposes before the weapons were returned to the Wehrmacht!
Karabiner [43.sup.2] Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 44 inches Barrel length: 22 inches Weight: 9.6 pounds Magazine: 10-round charger-loaded box Sights: Front- Inverted blade Rear- U-notch adjustable from 100 to 1200 meters Bayonet: None Sturmgewehr 44 Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone 43 Kurz Overall length: 37 inches Barrel length: 16.5 inches Weight: 11.25 pounds Magazine: 30-round detachable box Sights: Front- Inverted blade Rear- U-notch adjustable from 100 to 1200 meters Bayonet: None
Arsenals, arms depots, training centers and police stations were combed for rifles that at least fired the issue cartridge, and numbers of World War I vintage Infanteriegewehr 98, Karabiner 98a and 98b Mausers were located.
Infanteriegewehr 98 * Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 49.2 inches Barrel length: 29 inches Weight: 9 pounds Magazine: Five-round charger-loaded box Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 400 to 2000 meters Bayonet: Sword-style with 16-inch blade * -except for the bolt handle, rear sight and sling swivels, the Karabiner 98b was identical Karabiner 98a Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 43 inches Barrel length: 23.6 inches Weight: 8 lbs Magazine: Five-round charger-loaded box Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 200 to 2000 meters Bayonet: Sword-style with 14.5-inch blade
Lastly were small numbers of the Infanteriegewehr 88. Adopted in 1888, it was Germany's first smallbore, smokeless powder rifle and served as the launching platform for the 7.9x57 cartridge.
The 1938 Anschluss saw Austria annexed into the Reich. The Austrian Bundesheer was absorbed into the Wehrmacht and reequipped with German small arms and most of its M.95/30 Mannlichers were put into storage or used by training units. With the creation of the Volkssturm, numbers of these were supplied to various Gaue, primarily in the former Austria.
Infanteriegewehr 88 Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone 88 or Patrone S Overall length: 48.8 inches Barrel length: 29 inches Weight: 8.6 pounds Magazine: Five-round Mannlicher-style clip Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 250 to 2050 meters Bayonet: Sword-style with 11.5-inch blade
Photographs show that some Volkssturmmanner were even issued ancient Austro-Hungarian M.88-90 Mannlichers.
Despite the best efforts of the Heereswaffenamt, it quickly became obvious that rifle production was incapable of meeting the Wehrmacht's demands, let alone the Volkssturm's. Accordingly it was decided to arm the Volkssturm with Beutewaffen, weapons captured from the many European nations the Wehrmacht had overrun. While these eventually included just about every military rifle, light machine gun and handgun used by pre-1939 Continental armies, we will only examine the more common ones.
While it appears that most captured French rifles remained in France where they were used by German occupation troops and Vichy collaborationist forces, some found their way into the hands of Volksstrurmmanner in the western Gaue. The most common being the legendary "Lebel" and various models of the Berthier.
In the 1930s, the French army created the Fusil Mle. 1886 R.35, by shortening the barrels of the Mle. 1886/93 to a handier 17.7-inch barrels with a weight of 8.3 pounds.
Fusil d'Infanterie Mle. 1886/93 Caliber: 8mm balle (D) Overall length: 51.3 inches Barrel length: 31.5 inches Weight: 9.75 pounds Magazine: Eight-round tubular Sights: Front- Wide blade with groove Rear- 250-meter battle sight and U-notch adjustable from 400 to 2400 meters Bayonet: 16-inch cruciform epee
Another source of Beutewaffen was Belgium. It had been a major armsmaking center since the early 19th century, and the Germans obtained large quantities of Mle. 1889 Mauser rifles and carbines from the defeated Belgian army. These were popular because of their similarity of operation to the Karabiner 98k.
The Belgian Carabine Mle. 1915 and Fusil Mle. 1936 were similar except for barrel length and weight.
The Netherlands provided small numbers of the M.95 Mannlicher carbines, while some ex- Danish and Norwegian Krag-Jorgensens also ended up serving with Volksstrurmmanner.
Repetiergewehr M.95/30 Caliber: 8mm M.30 scharfe-S [Patrone.sup.3] Overall length: 50.1 inches Weight: 8.3 pounds Magazine: Five-round Mannlicher-style clip Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 300 to 2200 meters Bayonet: Knife-style with 9.75-inch blade Repetierkarabiner M.95/30 Caliber: 8mm M.30 scharfe-S Patrone Overall length: 39.5 inches Barrel length: 19.7 inches Weight: 6.8 pounds Magazine: Five-round Mannlicher-style clip Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 300 to 2200 meters Bayonet: Knife-style with 9.75-inch blade
The Volkssturm even received some No. 1 Mk. III* Lee-Enfields that had been abandoned by the British during their evacuation from Dunkirk or captured in North Africa.
Fusil d'Infanterie Mle. 1907/15 & Mle. 1916 Caliber: 8mm balle (D) Overall length: 51.4 inches Barrel length: 31.6 inches Weight: 8.4 pounds Magazine: Three-round Mannlicher-style clip (five-round on the Mle. 1916) Sights: Front- Wide blade with groove Rear- 250 meter battle sight & U notch adjustable from 400 to 2400 meters Bayonet: 16-inch cruciform epee
While the Germans captured massive amounts of Russian weaponry on the Eastern Front it appears that very little found its way into the hands of the Volkssturm. Most of it remained in Russia, where it was used by German occupation troops or issued to various non-German volunteer units lighting with the Waffen SS. Some Soviet rifles, such as the obr. 1891-30 Mosin-Nagant, did show up in the hands of Volkssturmmanner late in the conflict but the number was limited.
On 24 July 1943, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was deposed and that September the Italian government switched sides and joined the Allies. As Italy contained large numbers of German troops, the Wehrmacht lost little time in rounding up and disbanding most Italian army units. In the process they acquired large numbers of what was to become the "unofficial" rifle of the Volkssturm: the Mannlicher-Carcano.
Mousqueton d'Artillerie Mle. 1892 M.16 Caliber: 8mm balle D Overall length: 37.2 inches Barrel length: 17.85 inches Weight: 7.2 pounds Magazine: Five-round Mannlicher-style clip Sights: Front- Wide blade with groove Rear- U-notch adjustable from 400 to 2000 meters Bayonet: 16-inch sword bayonet Fusil d'Infanterie Mle. 1889 Caliber: 7,65mm Cartouche Mle. 1889 Overall length: 50.2 inches Barrel length: 30.7 inches Weight: 8.9 pounds Magazine: Five-round, charger-loaded Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 100 to 2000 meters Bayonet: Knife-style with 10-inch blade Karabijner No. 3 NM Caliber: Scherpe Patroon No. 1 (6.5x53.5R) Overall length: 37.7 inches Barrel length: 17.7 inches Weight: (unloaded) 7 pounds Magazine: Five-round, clip-loaded Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 400 to 2000 meters Bayonet: Epee style with 19-inch blade
The Germans confiscated almost 400,000 Italian rifles and moschetti (carbines), and while some were used by German occupation troops and supplied to the armed forces of Mussolini's short lived Repubblica Italiana Socialista, in 1944 most were shipped north to Germany to equip the Volkssturm.
While a bewildering variety of rifles and moschetti were thus obtained, from photographic evidence it appears that the Moschetto Mo. 1891 cavalry carbine, with its distinctive folding bayonet, saw the widest use.
While large numbers of Italian arms were obtained, it appears that there was insufficient ammunition for them and so it was decided to modify them to fire the standard German 7.9mm Patrone sS. The German firm of Waffenfabrik Heinrich Krieghoff and a factory in German occupied northern Italy were given the task of providing 40,000 converted rifles as soon as possible. (4)
Gevaer m/89 (Danish) Caliber: 8mm skarp Patrone m/08 Overall length: 52.3 inches Barrel length: 32.8 inches Weight: 10 pounds Magazine: Five-round, manually loaded Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 200 to 1400 meters Bayonet: Knife-style with a 9-inch blade Krag-Jorgensenkarabin M/1912 (Norwegian) Caliber: 6.5mm M/25 Skarpe Patroner Overall length: 43.5 inches Barrel length: 24 inches Weight: 8.7 pounds Magazine: Five-round, manually loaded Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 100 to 2200 meters Bayonet: Knife-style with 14.4-inch blade
The conversion process consisted of reboring and re-chambering the barrel to 7.9mm, modifying the bolt to handle the Patrone sS, altering the front sight, installing a recoil bolt in the stock to strengthen it and fitting a simple fixed rear sight set for 200 meters. As the 7.9mm Patrone sS would not function in the Mo. 1891's Mannlicher-style magazine, the magazine well was plugged with a wooden block, converting them into single-shot weapons. Smaller numbers of Fucile Mo. 1941 and Mo. 1938 rifles were also converted. While sources differ, it appears that somewhere between 12,000 and 16,000 Carcanos were converted by March 1945. (5)
No. 1 Mark III * S.M.L.E. Caliber: .303 Mark VII Overall length: 44.5 inches Barrel length: 25.2 inches Weight: 8.8 pounds Magazine: 10-round, charger-loaded, detachable box Sights: Front- Blade Rear- U-notch adjustable from 200 to 2000 yards Bayonet: Sword-style with 17-inch blade Vintovka obr. 1891-30g Caliber: 7.62mm patron obr. 1908g Overall length: 48.45 inches Barrel length: 28.75 inches Weight: 8.7 pounds Magazine: Five-round, charger-loaded Sights: Front- Hooded post Rear- U-notch adjustable from 100 to 2000 meters Bayonet: Socket-style with 16-inch cruciform blade
The converted Carcanos proved unpopular for a number of reasons. Not only were they single-shots, but they suffered from severe recoil, extreme muzzle flash and poor accuracy.
Civilians were also ordered to "donate" all privately owned firearms to their local Volkssturm units and some Volkssturmmanner marched off to defend the Fatherland equipped with hunting rifles, shotguns, drillings and .22 target rifles.
Moschetto Mo. 1891 Caliber: Cartuccia a Pallottola cal. 6.5 Overall length: 37.5 inches Barrel length: 17.75 inches Weight: 7 pounds Magazine: Six rounds, clip-loaded Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 300 to 1500 meters * Bayonet: Folding bayonet with 11.75-inch blade * -the similar Moschetto Mo. 91-38 had a 200 meter fixed rear sight.
Members of the Volkssturm received only very basic military training (if any at all!) consisting of a brief indoctrination and training on the use of basic weapons. There was also a lack of instructors, meaning that training was often conducted by Great War veterans, disabled NCOs and officers or members of the Hitler-jugend. Often Volkssturm members had to familiarize themselves with their weapons when in actual combat. There was no standardization of any kind and units were issued whatever equipment was available and it was not uncommon for them to receive the wrong ammunition for their weapons.
MP40 Caliber: 9mm Patrone 08 Overall length: 24.8 inches (stock folded) Barrel length: 9.9 inches Weight: 8.87 pounds Magazine: 32-round detachable box Sights: Front- Hooded blade Rear- U-notch flip for 100 and 200 meters Bayonet: None MP41 Caliber: 9mm Patrone 08 Overall length: 34 inches Barrel length: 9.9 inches Weight: 8.2 lbs Magazine: 32-round detachable box Sights: Front- Hooded blade Rear- U-notch flip for 100 and 200 meters Bayonet: None Maschinenpistole Erma (MPE) Caliber: 9mm Patrone 08 Overall length: 35 inches Barrel length: 9.8 inches Weight: 9 pounds (unloaded) Magazine: 32-round detachable box Sights: Fronts- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable by tangent from 100 to 1000 meters Bayonet: None Moschetto Automatico Beretta Mo. 38/42 Caliber: 9mm Patrone 08 Overall length: 31.5 inches Barrel length: 8.4 inches Weight: 7.2 pounds Magazine: 20 and 40-round detachable box Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- U-notch flip for 100 & 200 meters Bayonet: None MP3008 Caliber: 9mm Patrone 08 Overall length: 31.25 inches Barrel length: 7.8 inches Weight: 6.5 pounds Magazine: 32-round detachable box Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- Aperture set for 100 meters Bayonet: None
The Volkssturm had no standard uniform but it was thought necessary to provide them with some form of identification so that they would be considered members of an organized military unit and not francs-tireurs (irregulars or guerillas) who were not protected under international rules of war.
While some were issued with pieces of Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine uniforms or uniforms taken from the now defunct Italian army, with some sort of identifying badges, the majority had to make do with Armbinde (armbands) that identified them as belonging to the Volkssturm. Several different styles were used, some rather elaborately emblazoned with swastikas and eagles, while others were simple pieces of cloth with Deutscher Volkssturm Wehrmacht printed on them.
An attempt was made to issue helmets to the Volkssturmmanner but, as with everything else, they were in short supply. While the lucky few received the standard M.35 or M.42 Stahlhelm, some made do with M.16 pattern helmets left over from the Great War. French, Czech, Slovakian and Italian helmets along with fire brigade, civil defense and police helmets were also issued. In fact, most Volksstrurmmanner reported for duty wearing their everyday civilian clothing and an Armbinde. This resulted in the units looking ragged and unmilitary and instead of boosting civilian morale it often reminded people of Germany's desperate state.
SUBMACHINE GUNS OF THE VOLKSSTURM
Submachine guns, Maschinenpistolen, were an important component of Wehrmacht infantry tactics. With their light weight:, light recoil, high firepower, ease of operation and, considering that the Volkssturm were envisioned as fighting primarily in urban areas against numerically superior foes, the submachine gun would have been a very practical weapon for most Volkssturmmanner.
The standard submachine gun of the Wehrmacht was the excellent MP40, a revolutionary design made primarily from stamped steel and plastic. But, as with just about every piece of military equipment under discussion here, there were not enough to go around.
Thus it was that the Wehrmacht and SS were forced to use non-standard and captured submachine guns including, but not limited to, the German MP28, MP41, Erma MPE, Bergmann MP35, the Italian Beretta Mo. 1938A and Mo. 38/42 in addition to large numbers of Soviet PPSh41 and PPS43 submachine guns. Limited numbers of all of these showed up in the hands of Volksstrurmmanner.
In 1944 Waffenfabrik Mauser produced 25,000 identical copies of the British Mark II Sten gun known as the Gerat Potsdam, Whether this was a trial run or they were intended for some clandestine purpose is not known but the Wehrmacht apparently liked what they saw.
In 1945 a number of German factories began production of a copy of the variation of the Mark II Sten which was, as unbelievable as it may sound, even cruder than its British counterpart!
Known as the MP3008, they were assembled from stamped steel tubing and parts, crudely welded together. In some regions, local Gauleiters organized production of the MP3008, many of which lacked any manufacturers code or serial number. While they were supposed to be built to a standardized pattern, the quality of manufacturing facilities, availability of labor and raw materials resulted in many variations with the only common feature being they all used the MP40 magazine. The quality of manufacture bordered upon abysmal and declined rapidly as the war drew to a conclusion.
Thirteen known companies and several unidentified ones were involved in manufacturing the MP3008 with estimated total production around 5,000 units. They were used by both the Volkssturm and Wehrmacht in the waning days of the war.
I would like to thank the following for providing information and photos used to prepare this report: W Darrin Weaver, Blake Stevens, Craig Brown, Peter Kokalis, Monty Mendenhall, Russ Pastena, Dionigi Maladorno, Stuart Mowbray, Jo-Ann Langlois, John Wall, Kris Gasior and Mike Kerrigan.
For additional information about the Volkssturm I recommend W Darrin Weaver's excellent book Desperate Measures--The last ditch weapons of the Nazi Volkssturm (Collector Grade Publications--www.collectorgrade.com)
Next month (2120 issue): machine guns, pistols and other weapons of the Volkssturm
(1) Rape was apparently an unofficial Soviet policy to cow the German population. It has been reported that after the fall of Berlin in excess of 100,000 German women were raped by Soviet soldiers.
(2) The Karabiner 43 was also known as the Gewehr 43.
(3) Some M.95s chambered for the old 8mm M. 1893 scharle Patrone were also used.
(4) W. Darrin Weaver. Desperate Measures. The Last Ditch Weapons Of The Volkssturm. Page 73.
(5) Ibid. Page 75.
Photos by: James Walters & Nathan Reynolds (unless otherwise noted)
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|Article Type:||Product/service evaluation|
|Date:||Jan 20, 2011|
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