♦ The Heerestruppen 1939-45 Part 1 ♦

The German Army in World War II


A 150mm sFH 18 howitzer in firing position, Russia, circa 1942  (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

● ● ●

Roughly 10% of the German Army’s combat power was embodied in the Heerestruppen or General Headquarters Troops. These were non-divisional units controlled by higher headquarters for allocation to field armies, corps and divisions as required. Most were battalions and almost all were motorized or mechanized. About half of the HT units consisted of artillery battalions; the rest were assault gun battalions, machine gun battalions, engineer battalions, antitank and antiaircraft battalions, panzer (armored) and infantry formations, and various specialized units.

Artillery Battalions  •  Artillerie-Abteilungen (motorisiert)

Overall the organization of the Heerestruppen artillery battalions was similar to that of divisional artillery battalions. Early in the war non-divisional artillery battalions had howitzers of 150mm caliber or greater and guns of 105mm caliber or greater. Many battalions were mixed, e.g. with two batteries of 210mm howitzers and one of 150mm guns. Battalions with heavier weapons generally had two or three guns per battery for a total of six or nine. Later on single-type battalions became more common, e.g. 9 x 150mm guns in three batteries, each with three guns. Weapons shortages also compelled the Army to equip some Heerestruppen artillery units with lighter weapons, e.g. the 105mm light howitzer. Throughout the war, much use was made of captured weapons, e.g. Czech 150mm howitzers and guns, French 155mm howitzers, Russian 122mm howitzers and 152mm gun-howitzers, etc. The handful of super-heavy artillery battalions and separate batteries constituted a mixed bag, being equipped with guns and howitzers of 240mm to 600mm caliber, about half of which were of Czech origin. The Heerestruppen artillery included artillery observation battalions and rocket artillery (Werfer) units though technically the latter constituted a separate branch of service that will be described in Part 2.

To control these non-divisional artillery battalions, specialized headquarters elements were provided:

The Höheren Artillery-Kommandeur (motorisiert) (Motorized Higher Artillery Commander or Harko) was assigned at field army level, charged with general supervision of all the army’s artillery, both divisional and non-divisional.

The Stab, Artillery-Kommandeur (motorisiert) (Motorized Artillery Commander or Arko) was assigned at corps level, responsible for coordinating all artillery within the corps.

The Stab, Artillery-Regiment (motorisiert) (Motorized Artillery Regiment Headquarters) was assigned at corps level to command and control between two and four non-divisional artillery battalions. In modern parlance it was a modular unit to which battalions could be assigned as required for a given task. On occasion it was attached to a division to coordinate divisional and attached non-divisional artillery.

Assault Gun Battalions  •  Sturmgeschütz-Abteilungen

Assault gun battalions entered the Army’s order of battle in 1940 and despite being armored units were part of the artillery branch. They were equipped with the StuG III self-propelled assault gun, based on the chassis of the Panzer III tank, and were intended to provide the infantry with mobile direct fire support. Early versions were armed with thelow-velocity 75mm/L24 infantry gun, later replaced by a high-velocity dual-purpose 75mm/L43 gun. The gun was mounted in an armored casement with limited traverse. This endowed the StuG III with a lower profile and heavier frontal armor than a tank, and made the later version with its high-velocity gun an effective antitank weapon.

StuG III Ausf. F (75mm/L43 gun) and infantry in Russia, 1942 (Bundesarchiv)

Because it lacked a revolving turret, the cost to produce an StuG III was only 80% of a similarly armed tank: one reason why it became the second most-produced German armored vehicle of the war. On average, the German Army raised one assault gun battalion a month between 1940 and 1945, but they were in high demand and there were never enough of them. To fill the gap, independent assault gun batteries were also raised and fielded, and when possible they were brought together under a battalion headquarters. In addition to these Heerestruppen assault gun units, many more served in the panzer and motorized infantry (later panzer grenadier) divisions, sometimes in place of tanks when the latter were not available.

Though doctrine called for their employment en mass, assault gun battalions were usually attached to infantry divisions and it was common to allot one battery (7, later 10 x StuG III) to each of the division’s infantry regiments. By late 1942 the table of organization called for one platoon in each battery to be equipped with the StuH III mounting a 105mm howitzer in place of the 75mm gun, but not all of the thirty-odd assault gun battalions in existence at the time had these.

Motorized Machine Gun Battalions  •  Maschinengewehr-Bataillone (motorisiert)

Fourteen motorized machine gun battalion existed in 1939 and there were never more than fifteen in the Army's order of battle. Initially they embodied three motorized companies and two motorcycle platoons with a total of 44 heavy machine guns (HMG), plus an antitank company. Later on an 81mm mortar platoon was added. Often a pioneer (combat engineer) company was attached as well, to construct firing points and obstacles.

The MG 34 in heavy machine gun configuration (Bundesarchiv)

Some machine gun battalions were eventually converted to motorcycle infantry battalions and others to motorized infantry battalions; the ones that remained in their original configuration tended to be employed as mobile reserves. The machine gun was the 7.92mm MG 34 and later the 7.92mm MG 42, both of which were general-purpose designs with quick-change barrels that could be fed by drum or belt. When fitted with a bipod, sling and drum magazine they were classified as light machine guns (LMG); when issued with a tripod, telescopic sight and belt ammunition they were classed as HMG.

Engineer Battalions  •  Pionier-Bataillone (motorisiert)

Engineer battalions of the Heerestruppen were mostly of two types: pioneers (combat engineers) and bridging engineers. The former were similar to the motorized pioneer battalions found in the motorized infantry divisions and in addition to their field engineering mission they served as assault troops. As with the artillery, there was a specialized headquarters element to command and control them: the Stab Pionier-Regiment (motorisiert) (Motorized Engineer Regiment Headquarters). Heerestruppen engineer units also included assault boat and landing craft companies.

● ● ●

Organizational Diagrams






Copyright © 2020 by Thomas M. Gregg. All Rights Reserved

BACK to WAR ROOM Front Page