Thursday, September 3, 2015

The German Army of World War II Part III 1943-1945

Panther Tank in Italy
The German Army was hit with three massive defeats in 1943. Stalingrad fell with the loss of an entire German Army. German allies Romania, Hungary and Italy also suffered tremendous losses during the battle. Romania claimed to have lost 400,000 men. The fall of North Africa meant the loss of 175,000 men and access to Libyan oil. The Battle of Kursk in August was a shattering blow to German armored might. An Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy served to drive Italy out of the Axis in September. Germany lost its largest ally and at the same time was solely responsible for slowing the Allied drive north toward Rome.

With this came increasing shortages in key materials. The Germans had already used one method to ease oil use. Long before war started, they opted to sue horse-drawn equipment as much as possible for the slow-moving infantry divisions. Everything from supply carts to massive 210mm artillery pieces were towed by horse. Seeing horse carts in Normandy, American GIs thought the Germans had been reduced to using horses by their losses. The truth is that Germany had been using horses all along.

One way shortages were reduced was in making uniforms. Pleats and rounded pocket flaps disappeared. The cut of clothing was simpler, using less time and material. Older troops told new recruits to hold onto their gear, as the new equipment was not as good. Cheaper cloth and cheaper leather were met with cheaper labor. Germany used forced labor, which meant an immediate drop in quality plus many instances of sabotage. High jackboots were replaced by short boots with canvas leggings. The troops called them "retreat puttees." Indeed, 1943 saw the German ground forces retreating on all fronts.

Another change in the Army was the increasing use of camouflage. Soldiers often wore their shelter halves as ponchos. Camouflage helmet covers were issued to some units. Others painted their helmets in camouflage colors. Officers and some troops had their tunics made in camouflage material. The camouflage smock, a cut of jacket used by the Waffen SS, was adopted by Army units. The difference was that the Army used its own camouflage patterns rather than those employed by the SS. Army and Luftwaffe camouflage were similar, for the most part.
Forced labor had a telling effect on German ordnance. American officers in Normandy noticed that German artillery were firing a lot of "dud" rounds. Less visible side effects were clothes and equipment whose thread unraveled. There were dud panzerfausts whose charges failed to explode because someone pout a handful of hand in it at the factory. America never had this problem because it used free labor who had an interest in a successful outcome of the war. As Germany manufacture suffered from shortages and forced labor, American equipment kept improving.

The German soldier in 1943 to 1945 was not only facing an ever more powerful and numerous enemy. He had to do it while his own equipment was getting progressively worse.
Most of the toy soldiers made representing German troops were of the early-war type. Late-war troops are a more recent thing. Though not well-reflected in toy soldiers or movies, the change in the appearance of German troops marks the course of the war.

Another of the ironies of the Wehrmacht is that their best weapon systems showed up on the battlefield while they were retreating. The supertanks such as the Tiger and Panther series came into use in 1943. Better rifles such as the MP44 Assault Rifle began to be issued in 1944. By then, Germany was losing. The super tanks proved no match for Allied air power. The Panthers and Tigers were great for tank-to-tank fights, but came up far too short when ground-attack aircraft entered the picture.

German soldiers were more dangerous in retreat then when attacking. They fought until their situation became untenable. Those who remained would retreat to fight the same way again and again. They were tough and steadfast, and in the end died needlessly. Their leader would rather let them fight to the death than save those he could be ending an already lost cause. The German soldier was a more a victim of his own political leaders than the allied forces who came to defeat him. Had it not been so, a lot of the men who were lost at Stalingrad, Tunisia and Kursk would have had a chance to fight another day.

In the end, the German Army had suffered greatly. While Hitler looked for a miracle weapon to save the day, German troops were being overwhelmed. Hitler’s insistence on fighting to the last man caused more needless death. At the war’s end, the most rare thing in Germany was a 23-year-old man. Most had been killed in action.

At the Yalta conference, the Allied leaders agreed not to assassinate Hitler. They did this because they realized that Hitler’s blunders were contributing to the Army’s defeats.

There is plenty more information on the German Army here. Scroll down to the Historical section


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