♦ Infantry Regiments 1939-45 ♦

The German Army in World War II


German infantry in Russia, autumn 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

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At the beginning of the war infantry regiments and battalions were called just that: Infanterie-Regiment and Infanteriebataillon. Rifle companies were called Schützenkompanie. In 1942 all infantry regiments were retitled as Grenadier-Regimenter (grenadier regiments), an honorific recalling the army of Frederick the Great. Battalions and companies were similarly retitled. Regiments of light infantry divisions were called Jäger-Regiment and those of mountain infantry divisions were called Gebirgsjäger-Regiment. (Jäger is the traditional German term for light infantry.) Those of the Volksgrenadier divisions raised in 1944-45 were called Volksgrenadier-Regiment.

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The infantry regiment was the building block of the World War II German infantry division. At the beginning of the war all infantry divisions had three infantry regiments, each with three battalions plus an infantry gun company, an antitank company, a reconnaissance platoon and a pioneer (combat engineer) platoon. It thus replicated on a smaller scale the triangular organization of the infantry division—this in conformity with the German military doctrine of Einheit (unity), which held that units at each level of command should embody all the capabilities necessary to accomplish their missions.

The infantry regiments of the 35 infantry divisions of the peacetime army—the 1st Wave— had an authorized strength of 3,106 men. As additional divisions were mobilized in 1938-39, personnel and equipment shortages resulted in various minor organizational changes. For example, while the regiments of the 1st Wave had 50mm and 81mm mortars, those of the 2nd through 4th Waves had none initially, such weapons being in short supply. In general, however, the infantry regiment retained its prewar configuration up to 1943.

Command pennant for an infantry battalion commander

The basic unit of the infantry regiment was the rifle company, of which it had nine: three per battalion. Each battalion also had a machine gun company with heavy machine guns (HMG) and 81mm mortars. The rifle company had 167 men and was organized with a headquarters section and signal detachment, an antitank rifle section (3 x ATR), an HMG section (2 x HMG), three rifle platoons and the company trains (transportation for ammunition, rations and baggage). The rifle platoon had a headquarters section, four rifle squads and a light mortar section (1 x 50mm mortar). The squad had a squad leader, a seven-man rifle section and a two-man LMG section (1 x LMG). The machine gun company had 163 men and was organized with a headquarters section and signal detachment, two HMG platoons (each with 4 x HMG), a mortar platoon (6 x 81mm mortar) and the company trains.

It should be noted that the LMG and HMG were the same weapon: in 1939 the 7.92mm MG 34 machine gun. When equipped with a bipod and sling it was classed as an LMG; when provided with a tripod and telescopic sight it was classed as an HMG. Later in the war the MG34 was supplemented, though never entirely replaced, by the even better MG42. The ATR was the Panzerbüchse 38 or 39, firing a high-velocity 7.92mm armor-piercing projectile. They were effective against targets with thin armor but not against medium and heavy tanks, and were eventually replaced by antitank rocket launchers (ATRL) and the Panzerfaust weapon.

The regimental infantry gun (IG) company of 1st Wave infantry divisions had 2 x 150mm IG and 6 x 75mm IG. These weapons were used for direct fire on targets visible to the gun crews. However, only the 1st Wave regiments had 150mm IG; the rest received two additional 75mm IG instead. The regimental antitank (AT) company had 12 x 37mm antitank gun (ATG), 4 x LMG, and was motorized. The regimental messenger/reconnaissance platoon could be mounted on either horses or bicycles. The pioneer (combat engineer) platoon, a signals platoon and the regimental band (used as stretcher bearers in combat) were directly attached to the regimental headquarters.

Wartime modifications to the organization of the infantry regiment were made either to incorporate new weapons or to economize on manpower. For the 13th and 14th Wave infantry divisions (raised in late 1940-early 1941) personnel and equipment shortages compelled the deletion of the regimental infantry gun companies, the reduction of the regimental antitank companies to platoon strength (3 x 37mm ATG) and the deletion of the 81mm mortar platoons from the machine gun companies. The intention in such cases was to bring the regiments up to full strength when resources became available, and sometimes this was done. But by 1943, with the manpower crisis peaking, almost all infantry divisions were far below authorized strength. This forced the Army drastically to reduce the size of the infantry divisions, with many of the cuts falling on the infantry regiment.

German infantry MG 42 machine gun team. (Bundesarchiv)

The Type 1944 Grenadier-Regiment had an authorized strength of 1,987 men—an overall 38% reduction in manpower and a 45% reduction in infantry strength. One battalion was deleted and the other two were reduced from 850 to 708 men—mainly by reducing the rifle platoons from four to three squads. On the other hand, the number of heavy and light machine guns in the regiment was increased from 111 to 137, the antitank rifles were replaced by 36 x Raketenpanzerbüchse 54 antitank rocket launchers (ATRL), similar to the US bazooka, and 8 x 120mm mortar were added. This trend continued with the Volksgrenadier-Regiment, whose strength was cut to 1,854 men but had 54 x ATRL and a major increase in automatic weapons thanks to the introduction of the StG 44 assault rifle, a fully automatic weapon that was devastatingly effective at close range. In addition the Panzerfaust, a one-shot disposable infantry antitank weapon that could disable or destroy any tank, was issued on a large scale.

In the VG regiment, the rifle company was organized with a 20-man headquarters section, two 33-man assault platoons and one 33-man rifle platoon. Each platoon had 3 x LMG, and two of the three squads in the assault platoons were armed with the StG 44. Even so, the VG regiment had about 20% less firepower than the Type 1944 regiment, this due to a further reduction in manpower: 128 men versus 148 in the rifle companies. This reduction was achieved by eliminating the company HMG section.

The final revision to the organization of the standard infantry regiment was promulgated early in 1945. The Type 1945 Grenadier-Regiment was based on the VG regiment, albeit with fewer StG 44 assault rifles. Few if any regiments underwent this reorganization before Germany’s collapse.

One additional feature of the German infantry regiment is deserving of mention: its supply unit, called the light infantry column. Unlike the similar supply units of US and British infantry divisions, the light infantry column was an organic part of the regiment it served, furnishing the regiment with all supplies except rations. The light infantry column received ammunition, equipment, etc. from the divisional supply columns, then established distribution points at which the regiment’s units could draw supplies. Early in the war the light infantry column was “mixed mobility”: partly motorized, partly horse drawn. By late 1943, however, the shortage of motor vehicles was so acute that almost all supply columns in the infantry division were horse drawn.

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Organizational Diagrams 




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