Monday, August 31, 2015

German Army of World War II, Some Thoughts Part1, 1936 - 1942

The German Army of World War II, also known as the Wehrmacht, is popular among military miniature collectors. It is an army that fought first as "volunteers" in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Its last battle ended in May of 1945. At its peak in 1942, The German Army and its allies held an area stretching from the English Channel to the Volga River in Russia, as far North as the Arctic Circle and South to the Sahara desert.

The Wehrmacht came out of the Reichswehr Army in 1935. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he defied the Versailles Treaty and began building a larger modern Army. The Wehrmacht grew and added many weapons that had been banned by the Treaty. By 1936, they were using the Spanish Civil War as a testing ground for new weapons and tactics. Three years later, the German Army launched the invasion of Poland that started World War II in Europe.

For the military modeler and toy soldier collector, the German Army is a treasure trove for sheer variety of weapons, uniforms, vehicles and gear. It is one of the last armies to have such a wide assortment of uniforms, for instance. The same goes for the sheer variety of military vehicles from staff cars to tanks.

Despite all of this, many think of a typical member of German ground forces as the fellow in "coal scuttle" helmet with high boots and grey uniform. Up until mid-1942, that described most German soldiers. There were other type uniforms. Nonetheless, the first German soldier miniatures for both hobbyists and playsets were the standard image. So were the Germans portrayed in war movies.
Actually, the Wehrmacht went through a variety of uniforms. Shortages affected the cut of uniforms from 1943 onward. High boots gave way to low boots with gaiters. German troops facetiously called them "retreat puttees." Camouflage tunics and smocks became more common for the Wehrmacht; they already had been widely used by the Waffen SS. Special troops and units such as the Panzer crews, Deutsche Afrika Korps, Gerbirsjager mountain troops and Fallschirmjager paratroops were very different in appearance.

The basic infantry were organized into a squad of ten men. These were an NCO squad leader armed with submachine gun, a three-man light machine-gun team and six riflemen Four of these squads along with a lieutenant, three-man 50mm mortar team, a platoon sergeant and 4 other ranks made a platoon. Three rifle platoons plus a twenty-five man transport section, seven-man anti-tank rifle section with three "panzerbuchse" and a ten-man company headquarters section plus commanding officer was a German infantry company. The commander would normally be a captain or first lieutenant.. Those anti-tank rifles were later replaced with the German bazooka, or panzerschreck, and smaller panzerfaust.

By the time the US fought the Germans on the ground, the German army was transitioning away from the early uniform. Of course, examples were still around in 1944 as old stocks were depleted. The Americans’ first contact was with the tropical-uniformed Afrika Korps, who will be a subject of another article. A tropical uniforms was also worn by some German troops in Italy and Sicily. However, the basic uniform was common in the Fall and further North toward Rome.

For collectors, the basic squad in the early uniform is an easy enough project. Figures are easy enough to find. Marx, Airfix and Matchbox figures are easy to get and to "true up". Keep in mind that suspenders were optional because many early uniform tunics had an "inner suspension" that made them unnecessary. The squad is also a perfect team for playing OMOG Advanced.

Uniform Color The German uniform worn by most troops consisted of a field grey (feldgrau) tunic and stone grey (steingrau) trousers. Field grey was actually a grayish green. Stone gray could vary from light gray to medium gray to blue-gray. The 1943 US manual depicts it as darker blue, though the blue gray or lighter gray would be the norm. The stone gray trousers were officially replaced by field gray some time in 1942. However, stone gray trousers continued to be issued until stocks were depleted. The Waffen SS, a combat formation commanded by the SS political wing of the Nazi government, wore feldgrau trousers from the start of the war.

Helmets could be a variety of colors, from gray to shades of green. The green color ranged from pea green to a dark, almost black-green. For the Army, the right side had a shield in national colors and the left had a black shield with Eagle and swastika.

Uniforms had the Nazi eagle over the right pocket. Junior NCO rank was worn on the left sleeve. Sergeants and Officers wore it on the epaulette. NCOs had piping all around the collar. Junior and field grade officers’ epaulettes were silver color with silver "pips" to denote rank. Those of generals were red and gold.

Riflemen carried leather ammo pouches. men armed with submachine guns had two each of three-pouch canvas magazine-holders. The machine gunner and his assistant had pistols. The third crewman had a rifle
Well into 1942, the German Army started facing shortages of materials. Cloth, leather, dyes and such were affected by it. One result were ongoing changes in the cut and style of the uniform. Come 1943, new troops were issued short boots with leggings and plainer cut uniforms.

My first really good uniform book and Wehrmacht resource was the 1943 edition of TM-E 30-451 Handbook on German Military Forces. A friend found it when they moved into a new apartment and he gave it to me. The book described weapons ,tactics, radio, vehicles, aircraft and uniforms. It had a handful of color plates with German uniforms and insignia. I still have it. Though there were a few inaccuracies, it is a pretty reliable source. The main problem is that they show the stone grey trousers as a bluish purple. Otherwise, A-Okay!

Over the years I have accumulated other resources that cover the German Army. Ditto for the other armies of World War II. These range from official military handbooks to collections of images based on more current research. The German Army requires it because there is so much there. I am sure that all that variety was a drain on the Wehrmacht’s resources.*

My first set of German soldiers was the first Airfix 1/76 scale set. At the time, the only sets they had of regular soldiers were Infantry Combat Group and German Infantry. Marx’s 6-inch and 1/32 size German soldiers came later. They all depicted the standard German Army uniform of 1939-1942. When Airfix released theirs, they turned out to be the same early types. The anomaly was the odd ERMA-type submachine gun rather than a Bergmann or MP40

Holger Eriksson, famous Swedish sculptor of miniature soldiers, did German infantry as his first set of figures. They are an interesting set, to say the least. Other sets of metal German Infantry figures may have more detail, but few have the character or elan of Holger’s set.

For metal casters like myself, there had been a dearth of German soldier molds for the longest time. Rapaport - Castings -REB made a three-cavity metal mold for Afrika Korps figures copied from Charbens. Until Dunken came out with its molds that copied Matchbox Germans, the field war pretty dry. Dutlkins makes molds with his own series of original Germans. I decided to try making Germans out of some of the other three-cavity homecasts. Below are examples. In a later article, I will show how it is done.

Future articles on this series are "will cover the Wehrmacht, Special Units, the Afrika Korps, the Waffen SS and armored vehicles.

* During World War II, an American artillery officer was shown a German breech block. It had 51 or 52 parts. A breech block for an American gun had a total of 7 parts. The officer noted that while the German breech block was beautifully engineered, it had 51 things that could go wrong. The German supply train had to manage an inventory of 51 parts to 7 for the Americans. Germans (and the Swiss and Swedes) have a penchant for over-engineering things.

There is plenty more information on the German Army here:

A copy of the 1943 Handbook with the full color plates can be gotten here. It is a good primer on the uniform and insignia such as rank.[1].pdf

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