Small arms of the Deutscher Volkssturm part II: the Volkssturm was prone to give up quietly when facing U.S. or British troops, but fought hard when confronted by Soviet armies.
While it is generally believed that the Volksstrurmmanner were of little use in battle, this often proved not to be the case. While these civilian soldiers realized that the situation was hopeless, they nevertheless marched out to man defensive positions in the hope that the time they bought with their lives would allow their families to escape to the west.
An example was the defense of Festung Konigsberg in East Prussia, which was cut off by the Soviets in January 1945. It was defended by 25,000 regular troops augmented by 10,000 Volkssturmmanner and Hitlerjugend who held out until April. According to reports "... old men and boys of the Volkssturm fought heroically alongside veteran regulars of the Wehrmacht." When the Soviets finally captured the city, only 3,000 of the original 35,000 defenders remained. (1)
Festung Breslau was defended by 35,000 regulars and 38 Volkssturm battalions that held off seven Soviet divisions for two and half months before, with over 40,000 civilians and half the defenders casualties, they were convinced to surrender. Despite Soviet assurances to the contrary, many of the surviving defenders were executed while others were shipped off to Gulags in Siberia from which they never returned.
Considering their lack of training, supply and poor equipment, many Volkssturm units performed remarkably well and were especially tenacious in prepared defensive positions. Their sacrifices permitted many tens of thousands of the elderly, women and children to escape the wanton destruction and wholesale atrocities that the Red Army, in payback for similar German crimes, was perpetuating upon German civilians.
MG34 Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 48.25 inches Barrel length: 24.75 inches Weight: 26.75 pounds Feed device: 50-round belt or 75-round saddle drum Rate of fire: 800-900 rpm Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 100 to 2000 meters
MACHINEGUNS OF THE VOLKSSTURM
As the Volkssturm usually fought from static and (sometimes) prepared positions the Maschinengewehr, or machine gun, was a vitally important tool ... if they had only had enough of them.
A report dated 15 January 1945 indicates that the Volkssturm of Gau Bayreuth in Bavaria possessed only a dozen machine guns--six of foreign make--requiring three different calibers of ammunition. (2)
During World War II the German armed forces fielded two standard machine guns, the MG34 and MG42, the latter being considered by many as one of the finest machine guns ever developed. Both were what are today referred to as "general purpose" machine guns meaning that they were portable by one soldier and could be fired from a bipod as a light machine gun or from a tripod as a medium machine gun. They were belt-fed, air-cooled weapons with high rates of fire and quick-change barrels.
The Volkssturm received only limited numbers: of MG34s and MG42s and had-to make do, when then received any machine guns at all, with obsolete German de signs and captured guns. Of the former the most common were the MG08/15, MG13 and MG15.
MG42 Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 48 inches Barrel length: 20.8 inches Weight: 25.5 pounds Feed device: 50-round belt Rate of fire: 1200-1300 rpm Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 100 to 2000 meters
The MGG8/15 was lightened, water cooled Maxim that was the German army's primary LMG during the Great War, although at 39 pounds (without cooling-water), "lightened" was more a hopeful expression than a fact.
The MG13 was the Wehrmacht's first true light machine gun and was built on radically modified Dreyse M.15 heavy machine guns left over from the Great War. The water cooling jacket was replaced with an air cooled barrel, the receiver was lightened and modified to accept a box magazine, a bipod and folding shoulder stock were fitted. While most were sold to Portugal after the adoption of the MG34, enough remained that they were used by training depots and, eventually, the Volkssturm.
Another hybrid design used by the Volkssturm was the MG15. These were aircraft coaxial guns that were fitted with a crude stock, bipod and simple sights, while some had water cooling jackets fitted. The result was a long, heavy and not particularly practical LMG.
MG13 Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 57.75 inches (stock extended) Barrel length: 28.25 inches Weight: 24 pounds Feed device: 25-round box & 75-round saddle drum Rate of fire: 650 rpm Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 200 to 2000 meters
Two other ex-Luftwaffe machine guns, the MG17 and MG81, were adapted for ground use but is suffered from the same shortcomings as the MG15.
Period photos and records indicate that Volksstrurmmanner were armed with a variety of foreign machine gun& including the Austrian MG30, French Mle. 1922 Hotchkiss, Russian Degtyarev DP and DPM, Danish, Dutch and Norwegian Madsens, Polish wz. 28, Czech ZB26 and ZB30, Dutch and English Lewis guns. Trying to supply ammunition for this collection of LMGs must have been a nightmare.
As the situation on the Eastern Front became more and more desperate, the Volkssturm were reinforced with young boys from the Hitlerjugend, Luftwaffe personnel, sailors, Seebattalione (marines), military gendarmes, anti-aircraft Grews, policemen and fire crews. Many of the aforementioned military personnel had received only limited, if any, infantry training, while they had earlier been relieved of most of their small arms so they could be issued to frontline units. While the numbers of personnel thus obtained might have looked impressive on paper, their battle-worthiness ranged from fair to nil.
MG08/15 Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 58.5 inches Barrel length: 28.3 inches Weight: 39 pounds Feed device: 100 & 250-round belts Rate of fire: 450 rpm Sights: Front- Inverted V-blade Rear- V-notch adjustable from 200 to 2000 meters
On the Western Front, the situation was quite different. British, American and Canadian troops generally abided by the rules of war, treated POWs decently and there were few atrocities against civilians. But while the fear of reprisals by Allied troops may not have been uppermost in their minds as in the east, many Volkssturm units performed quite well although they were hampered by lack of small arms and other equipment.
MG15 Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 52.5 inches Barrel length: 23.5 inches Weight: 28 pounds (air cooled version) Feed device: 75-round saddle drum Rate of fire: 850 rpm Sights: Front- Inverted various Rear- Various
Large numbers of Volkssturmmanner manned the fortifications of Hitler's vaunted West Wall so as to free up regular troops but the Allies generally bypassed the fortified positions rather easily.
In the case of the Hitlerjugend, the loyalty and fanaticism displayed by these youths was remarkable. "With few exceptions, the boys accepted their duty with resolution. Rather than surrender, recalled an American officer who in 1945 faced an artillery unit of Hitler Youth, the boys fought until they were killed."
In many cases, the Volkssturm were sent into battle with very little, or no, ammunition for their weapons making opposition to the Allies almost impossible. As they became aware of the futility of their positions, increasing numbers of them laid down their weapons and went home.
Unlike in the east, many Germans realized the futility of continued resistance and so as to spare their families and towns the ravages of war, many Burgermeisters disbanded local Volkssturm units, sent the men home and then surrendered their villages and towns to the advancing Allies. "As the tired old men of the Volkssturm, fear evident on their faces, filed out of the church with trembling, upraised hands, a grimy, be-whiskered 3rd Armored tanker called to a comrade, 'I never thought I'd feel sorry for a Kraut. But I feel sorry for those old bastards.' The others nodded solemnly in agreement." (3)
HANDGUNS OF THE VOLKSSTURM
Handguns did not figure prominently in the armament of the Volkssturm. The standard sidearm of the Wehrmacht, the Walther P38, was a powerful, reliable combat pistol but--as with everything else--they were in short supply and so the Volkssturm did not receive very many of them.
The German army, Nazi party, police and various security forces issued large numbers of handguns to their personnel. In many cases these were pocket pistols chambered for the 6.35mm, 7.65mm and 9mm Short Browning cartridges (.25, .32 & .380 ACP) and were considered more as badges of rank and authority than real fighting weapons. Such pistols as the Walther PP and PPK, Sauer Modell 30 and 38 and Mauser HSc were widely used for this purpose.
Walther P38 Caliber: 9mm Patrone 08 Overall length: 8.6 inches Barrel length: 4.9 inches Weight: 34 ounces Magazine: 8 rounds Sights: Front- Blade Rear- U-notch Grips: Plastic CZ Pistole 27 Caliber: 7.65mm Browning Overall length: 6.3 inches Barrel length: 3.9 inches Weight: 24 ounces Magazine: 8 rounds Sights: Front- Blade Rear- V-notch Grips: Plastic or wood Beretta Pistole Mo. 1934 & 1935 Caliber: 7.65mm Browning/9mm Corto Overall length: 6.1 inches Barrel length: 3.4 inches Weight: 23 ounces Magazine: 7 or 8 rounds Sights: Front- Blade Rear- V-notch Grips: Plastic
As with other small arms, the Volkssturm received limited numbers of foreign handguns including the Soviet Tokarev TT33, U.S. M1911A1, Polish Radom, FN Mle. 1910/22, French Mle. 1935 and even some British No. 2 Enfield and Russian Nagant revolvers. According to W Darrin Weaver, the most common handguns issued to the Volkssturm were Czech vz.24, vz.27, vz.39 and Befetta Mo. 1934 and Mo. 1935 pistols.
While both Mauser and Walther attempted to design inexpensive Volkspistolen made from steel stampings, little came of their efforts except a few trials pistols.
As it turned out, the most efficient and tactically important weapons issued to the Volkssturmmanner were not small arms, but anti-tank weapons. While the Panther and Tiger tanks were possibly the best of the war, the Americans and Soviets were able to outproduce the Germans, and fielded vast numbers of Sherman and T-34 tanks, overwhelming the German armored forces.
As Allied air raids reduced German production of armored vehicles and artillery, it became necessary to find simple, cheap weapons that would enable infantry successfully to destroy enemy tanks. In 1943, the Heereswaffenamt introduced two such weapons: the Panzerfaust ("tank fist") and the Panzerschreck ("tank terror").
ANTI-TANK WEAPONS OF THE VOLKSSTURM
Development of an anti-tank weapon portable and usable by one man began in 1942 and the resulting Panzerfaust 30 weighed 11.2 pounds and had a total length of 3.4 feet. Along one side of the disposable steel launch tube were a simple folding rear sight and a trigger unit, while the edge of the warhead served as a front sight. The 6.4-pound warhead was fitted into the front of the tube by an attached wooden tail stem with metal stabilizing fins.
The hollow charge warhead contained 1.8 pounds of a 50:50 mixture of TNT and hexogen explosives and was capable of penetrating 7 inches of armor. The steel launch tube contained a 3.4-ounce charge of blackpowder propellant that could propel the warhead up to 60 meters. In use, the rear sight was folded up, the launcher tube held under the firer's arm, aim taken and the trigger bar pressed down.
Instruction in their use was fast and simple, allowing large numbers of Volkssturmmanner and Hitlerjugend to be armed with them. In fact, this was the only weapon some Volkssturm units received! The construction was so simple that they were made in Berlin while the city was under siege, allowing wheelbarrow loads of Panzerfauste to be delivered to the defenders on the front lines. There were several versions, each more powerful and with longer range: Panzerfaust 30 klein ("small"), Panzerfaust 30, 60, 100 and 150.
It proved particularly effective against Allied armored vehicles, especially in close-range urban combat and the Panzerfaust was used to knock out large numbers of Soviet armored vehicles during the Battle of Berlin.
Introduced in 1943, the Panzerschreck, officially known as the 8.8cm Raketenpanzerbuchse, was a powerful--and more complicated--anti-tank weapon. (4) An improved copy of the U.S. M1A1 "Bazooka," it used electric ignition to fire a larger and more powerful 8.8cm rocket that could penetrate 8 inches of armor plate at a range of 150 meters. It required a two-man crew, a firer and a rocket carrier, and proved extremely popular with the Wehrmacht. It was produced by 11 companies, but its cost and complexity led to it being preempted by the Panzerfaust and very few were supplied to the Volkssturm.
As the situation in Germany deteriorated, it was realized that the only way to provide sufficient small arms was to come up with new designs that could be made as quickly, using as few strategic materials as possible. One of the first priorities was to produce sufficient rifles for the Volkssturm, and Albert Speer's Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production was assigned the task of developing the so-called Volksgewehr. In November 1944, seven different firms submitted bolt-action prototypes chambered for both the 7.9mm Patrone sS and 7.9mm Patrone 43 Kurz.
THE VOLKSGEWEHRE BOLT-ACTION DESIGNS
On 12 December 1944 a design submitted by Walther was accepted as the Volksgewehr 1 (VG1). It was based on a tubular receiver with a simple, one might say crude, one-piece bolt fitted with surplus barrels meant for Luftwaffe machine guns that were machined down to lighten them. A 10-round Gewehr 43 box magazine was used, while the sights consisted of a simple, fixed V-notch rear and tapered post front. A very crude, slab sided wooden stock with a short forearm finished it off.
The VG1 was built and/or assembled by at least 18 different firms with the facilities, availability of labor and material (or lack of) resulting in many different versions, even from the same manufacturer. Total production is not known, as most records were lost after, the war but there are few photos of VG1-armed Volksstrurmmanner.
There was also a Volksgewehr 2 that was similar in concept to the VG1 but used a stamped steel receiver and two-piece stock. While Speer's ministry attempted to keep control of all weapons-production, local Gauleiters sometimes took control of factories and arranged for weapons to be produced for local Volkssturm units. This was the case with the VG2, only small numbers of which were produced by the firm, of Schicasu AG, Ebing of Danzig before the city was captured by the Soviets.
Mauser Waffenfabrik and Steyr both developed simplified versions of the Karabiner 98 that consisted of little more than a Kreigsmodell barreled action and magazine in a crude half-length stock (some did not even have butt-plates), wire loop sling swivels and fitted with fixed sights. While Mauser only produced prototypes, Steyr was ordered to produce its simplified rifle as the Volksgewehr 5, although they are more commonly known as the Volkskarabiner 98 (VK98).
While most of Steyr's records were lost, it would appear that it assembled approximately 9,400 VG98s before the factory was captured by the Soviets.
There were a number of other bolt-action Volksgewehre, but they were only produced in small numbers as prototypes or for trials and will not be covered by this report.
In an attempt to provide the Volkssturm with badly needed firepower, the Gustl-off Werke began development of a semi-auto rifle similar in concept to the StG44 that would be adopted as the Volkssturmgewehr. (5)
Designed by Karl Barnitzke, it used a gas delayed blowback action whereby gas bled from the barrel creates resistance to the rearward impulse of the operating parts, which ceases when the projectile leaves the muzzle, allowing the operating parts to be forced rearward by the residual pressure.
The Volkssturmgewehr had a sheet metal jacket, with the breechblock pinned in its rear, which surrounded the barrel. When the rifle was fired, gas bled off from four vents near the muzzle held the jacket in the forward position until chamber pressure dropped to a safe level, whereupon the jacket recoiled to the rear, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case. The rear end of the rifle, containing the hammer, sear and trigger, did not recoil.
A recoil spring around the barrel then pulled the jacket forward, stripping the next round out of the magazine and chambering it. It was chambered for the 7.9mm Patrone 43 and used the same 30-round box magazine as the Sturmgewehr 44. It featured a crude, two piece wooden stock and fixed sights.
Except for the barrel, breechblock and a few critical components, the entire rifle was constructed of steel stampings and, according to its designer, a Volkssturmgewehr only took three man-hours to manufacture and the Gustloff Werke managed to produce approximately 10,000 of them between January 1945 and the end of the war. Most were apparently issued to those Volkssturm units in eastern Germany facing the Red Army.
In eastern Germany, the situation had become critical as the Red Army drove towards Berlin. Units composed of Wehrmacht, Waffen SS, Hitlerjugend and Volkssturm put up a spirited resistance on the Oder and Vistula river fronts. But others--both Volkssturm and regulars--broke and abandoned their posts in the face of the unrelenting Soviet onslaught and headed west in hopes of avoiding capture.
Volksgewehr 1 Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 36.6-40.6 inches * Barrel length: 15.7 to 19.7 inches * Weight: 7.3 pounds * Magazine: 10-round detachable box Sights: Front- Tapered post Rear- V-notch fixed for 100 meters Bayonet: None * --dimensions will vary depending on manufacturer Volkskarabiner 98 (VG5) Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone sS Overall length: 43.7 inches * Barrel length: 23.6 inches * Weight: Approx. 7.7 pounds * Magazine: 5-round charger-loaded (some single-shot VK98s exist) Sights: Front- Tapered post Rear- V-notch fixed for 100 meters Bayonet: None * --variable depending on which of two different barrels were used Volkssturmgewehr Caliber: 7.9mm Patrone 43 Kurz Overall length: 34.7 inches Barrel length: 15 inches Weight: 10.2 pounds Magazine: 30-round detachable box Sights: Front- Blade Rear- U-notch fixed for 100 meters Grips: None
On 20 April 1945 the Red Army attacked Festung Berlin and the Gotterdammerung that Hitler had predicted began. Germany's capital was defended by approximately 50,000 troops, a collection of Waffen SS (mainly Scandinavian, Belgian, Dutch, Baltic and French volunteers), depleted Wehrmacht units, stragglers, Hitlerjugend, ceremonial troops, SS, Feldgendarmerie, and anti-aircraft crews. They were supplemented by 60,000 Volkssturmmanner, some-as young as 12 and many armed with nothing more than a single Panzerfaust or an old Italian carbine and a few rounds of ammunition.
The attackers included seven Soviet army groups with massive armor and artillery support. Once again German resistance was stiff, but in the end numbers told out. Realizing that they would most likely be executed on the spot if captured by the Russians, many Volksstrurmmanner put up much tougher resistance than anyone would have thought, but the outcome was preordained.
On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. With their leadership gone, many German units attempted to withdraw to the west to escape the Soviets. Volksstrurmmanner began discarding their weapons and Armbinden in an attempt to blend back into the civilian population, although they found little safety there.
Soviet troops were given free rein in the fallen Nazi capital. Exacerbated by a general lack of discipline, alcohol and a desire for revenge, these troops engaged in an orgy of looting, murder and rape reminiscent of the mercenary armies of the Thirty Years War. The Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was a captain in the Red Army at the time, said "All of us knew very well that if the girls were German they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat distinction." (6)
Many surrendering Wehrmacht personnel, and anyone even suspected of being a member of the Volkssturm, were often executed on the spot or--an even worse fate--deported to the USSR where they ended their days as slave laborers. Given the barbarous German treatment of Soviet civilians and POWs earlier in the war, little better could have been expected.
While the Volkssturm was doomed from its inception, many thousands of Germans served bravely in its ranks, mainly in the hope of delaying the Russian juggernaut long enough for their families to escape to the west. They knew it was suicidal, but the alternative was unacceptable and so they often fought to the bitter end. If for no other reason, many of their sacrifices can be considered honorable.
I would like to thank the following for providing information and photos used to prepare this, report: W. Darrin Weaver, Blake Edwards, Craig Brown, Peter Kokalis, Monty Mendenhall, Russ Pastena, Dionigi Maladorno, Stuart Mowbray, Jo-Ann Langlois, John Wall, Kris Gasior and Mike Kerrigan.
(1) W. Darrin Weaver, Desperate Measures. The Last Ditch Weapons Of The Volkssturm. Pages 342-343.
(2) Ibid. Page 329.
(3) Ibid, page 337.
(4) German troops referred to the Panzerschreck as the Ofenrohr, the "stovepipe."
(5) Small numbers of selective fire Volkssturmgewehre were produced for trials but were never approved.
(6) W. Darrin Weaver, Desperate Measures. The Last Ditch Weapons Of The Volkssturm. Page xxvii.
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)
By Paul Scarlata
Photos by: James Walters & Nathan Reynolds (unless otherwise noted)
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|Date:||Feb 20, 2011|
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