♦ Infantry Division Artillery 1939-45 ♦

The German Army in World War II


The artillery of a German infantry division moves out, circa 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

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The battalions subordinate to the artillery regiments and separate artillery battalions were called Artillerie-Abteilungen—this being the term for battalion in certain branches of the German Army. If necessary, artillery regiments and battalions had motorisiert appended to their titles, e.g. 15. Artillerie-Regiment (motorisiert)—often abbreviated to (mot).

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About 50% of the German infantry division’s total firepower was embodied in its organic artillery regiment. In the Type 1939 Infanterie- Division this regiment consisted of three light howitzer battalions (each with 12 x 105mm howitzer), one heavy howitzer battalion (12 x 150mm howitzer) and a motorized artillery observation battalion with calibration, sound-ranging and flash-ranging batteries plus a weather platoon. A few also had an observation balloon battery. After the Polish campaign, the artillery observation battalions were withdrawn from the divisional artillery regiments and became part of the Heerestruppen. The regiment's four howitzer battalions were all horse-drawn. The regimental headquarters and all battalion headquarters included a communications platoon.

Such was the desired standard but thanks to personnel and equipment shortages, only some artillery regiments of the 1st Wave divisions achieved it. Those of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Waves had no observation battalion. The 7th Wave divisions had no heavy howitzer battalion at all and its light howitzer battalions had only two batteries each (8 x 105mm howitzer, for a division total of 24). As regards weapons, production was never able to keep pace with demand and many artillery regiments had to be equipped with guns and howitzers captured from the Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Belgians, French, and Soviets. When raised, the 5th and 6th Wave divisions were armed with howitzers acquired from the former Czech Army. In June 1944 the 716th Infantry Division in Normandy had three artillery battalions, each with 12 x 100mm light field howitzer (Czech). Two of the battalions had in addition a battery with 4 x 155mm howitzers (French). The 709th Infantry Division, also in Normandy, was equipped with captured Czech, Russian and French guns and howitzers.

A fair number of these captured weapons were actually of good quality but the multiplicity of types in service by 1942 not only caused logistical problems but made it hard to gauge the combat capability of a given infantry division—a conundrum exacerbated by the ad hoc reductions that often were necessary. In the spring of 1942, as the Army prepared for its summer offensive in southern Russia, Army Group Center, facing Moscow, was raided for the manpower and weaponry necessary to bring Army Group South up to strength. Among other things, the firing batteries of the divisional artillery battalions in AG Center were reduced from four to three guns or howitzers— many of them older models or captured stock.

Red Army troops with M1939 76.2mm field guns, hundreds of which were captured by the Germans and used by them. (Red Army photo)

The artillery regiment of the 1944-45 Volksgrenadier-Division had four battalions: one with 16 x 75mm field gun, two with 12 x 105mm howitzer each and one with 12 x 150mm howitzer. The 105mm and 150mm battalions were organized with two firing batteries (six howitzers each) instead of three firing batteries (four howitzers each)—this to conserve manpower by eliminating one battery headquarters element.

There were basically two types of weapon in the German division artillery: field guns and field howitzers. The former were low-trajectory weapons with a longer range than a howitzer of equivalent caliber; the latter were high-trajectory, enabling them to place fire on targets behind terrain features like hills and ridges. The majority of German infantry divisions had howitzers only, but many of those raised in the last three years of the war received field guns, often captured models like the Soviet 76.2mm M1939.

German tactical doctrine stressed the importance of close cooperation between infantry and artillery, and much training time was devoted to this. Usually each of the division's three infantry regiments had a light howitzer battalion in direct support, with the heavy howitzer battalion available to provide general support and reinforcing fire as needed. But great importance was also placed on the ability of the division artillery to mass its fire against a single target, to which end all units were well equipped with radios and field telephones. Battery positions were carefully selected and camouflaged. As many as six might be prepared for an artillery battalion of three batteries, allowing rapid displacement after firing to avoid detection. The battery personnel were trained and equipped as infantry, enabling them to defend their firing positions against a direct attack.

A 105mm leFH 18, abandoned in Königsberg at the end of the war. It was the German Army's stand light field howitzer. (Bundesarchiv)

In addition to the division artillery regiments, the German Army maintained a large number of non-divisional artillery battalions, independent batteries and artillery headquarters elements as part of the Heerestruppen (General Headquarters Troops). Such artillery units were allotted to corps and field army commands as required, e.g. to support a major offensive. In them were found most of the long-range guns and the howitzers of 150mm caliber or greater. They were organized in much the same manner as the division artillery units.

Overall the German field artillery was equal or superior to that of all its early opponents, including the USSR. Though its artillery weapons were of excellent design and performance, the Red Army could not procure in sufficient numbers the trained artillerymen necessary to emulate the German system. Only in the last two years of the war did it hit upon a solution in line with its resources and answerable to its need for a powerful artillery arm.

In the final phase of the war in the west, the artillery arms of the British and US armies proved themselves definitely superior to that of the German Army. Though a US infantry division had about the same numerical artillery strength as a comparable German infantry division—36 x 105mm howitzers and 12 x 155mm howitzers—its four field artillery battalions were fully motorized and its fire direction and control capabilities were significantly more advanced. The same was true of British infantry divisions which had three field regiments, each with 24 x 25-pounder (87.6mm) gun-howitzers. Though relatively small in caliber, the 25-pounder had a long range and a high rate of fire, and was generally considered to be one of the best artillery weapons of the war.

As was the case with most branches and services of the German Army, the infantry division artillery could not keep pace, either numerically or technologically, with its enemies. Armed with a variegated assortment of weapons, largely reliant on horses for mobility, increasingly vulnerable to attack from the air, German artillery, like the Army as a whole, became less and less effective as the war went on.

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Organizational Diagrams



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