Chapter 11


There were few improvisations in the field of weapons. The field forces made minor improvements but never went as far as to create new weapons. Captured weapons were not popular with the field forces but frequently had to be used, in order to compensate for German shortages. Captured artillery pieces were organized into batteries and battalions or employed individually. Most of the time they were committed on secondary fronts or in the depth of the battle position as antitank weapons. Their performance was rarely equal to that of German guns. For many of these pieces no firing data were available, others had no sighting devices, and still others were without adequate transportation facilities. Whenever several types of captured guns were assigned to one unit, as in the Crimea and other secondary theaters, the defects and difficulties multiplied in proportion to the variety of types. Lack of ammunition soon put an end to the employment of many of these weapons.

One of the exceptions to the above observations was the Russian heavy mortar which was very popular with the Germans.  This weapon was easy to operate, effective, and justly feared. Captured Russian mortars were often organized into batteries and committed at the front with German crews. By request of the field forces, mortars of the same type were produced in Germany in 1944. Even then they could not be issued at all or only in limited quantities because the necessary ammunition was not available at the front.

Painting silhouettes of the most common types of enemy tanks in front view and profile on the shields of artillery and antitank guns proved a very practical antitank defense aid. The vulnerable points were marked in red. In addition there was a warning sign on the shield: "Observe carefully, take good cover, and open fire at a maximum range of 1,000 yards." The distances were indicated by markers on the ground at 200-yard intervals in all directions so that reference points for the exact distance were always available.

As the standard German antitank weapons proved ineffective against the Russian T34, light howitzers as well as captured Russian 76-mm. guns were used as direct-fire weapons against tanks. In addition, hand grenades and mines were produced locally and used as makeshift antitank weapons. During periods of position warfare, the engineers prepared large quantities of


wooden-box mines. The bodies were made of impregnated wood and the mines were fired by pressure. The introduction of the Panzerfaust- a recoilless antitank grenade and launcher, both expendable- completely superseded previous improvisations in the field of antitank weapons.

Sunflower oil proved excellent for the care of weapons. During the winter of 1941-42 sunflower oil was the only available lubricant which would permit proper functioning of weapons in the cold climate that prevailed on the Russian front. Unfortunately it was produced only in the southern regions and even there not in sufficient quantities.

In general, the existing German weapons were adequate for arctic operations. The need for additional antiaircraft weapons was met by mounting light artillery pieces, barrels pointing upward, on revolving platforms. For operations against Russian raiding parties on the Kandalaksha front, captured Russian tanks were placed on flanged-wheel cars and thus transformed into armored cars on rail. Cross-country mobility was stressed in the choice of weapons but not all requirements could be met. To increase the mobility of the artillery, one pack artillery battalion replaced a field howitzer battalion in each artillery regiment. Later the arctic theater was assigned a recoilless gun battalion. Although this battalion was not nearly so mobile as the pack howitzer units, it was more suitable than ordinary light artillery. Moreover the number of mortars was greatly increased in order to make the infantry more independent of artillery support in difficult terrain. Most rifles issued to the infantry were replaced by submachine guns because the former proved ineffective during combat in the wilderness.


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