Political Measures Introduced by the National Socialist Party
I. Civilian Labor Procurement
During the years preceding the outbreak of the war, civilian labor procurement had to be improvised on a large scale for the construction of fortifications. Even at the time when the West Wall was under construction, the allocation of manpower was essentially an improvisation of gigantic proportions. Receiving unusually high pay and enjoying a variety of other benefits, hundreds of thousands of men were employed by the Todt Organization and moved from one building project to the next. Not everything that was built at that time was beyond criticism, yet some of the achievement of the years 1938-39 would not have been possible without these improvisations. Toward the end of the war another improvised labor force was formed to construct additional fortifications in the west. This time it consisted of entire Hitler Youth units, of men who were in age groups subject to labor conscription but too old for military service, and of men who were no longer fit for combat.
The improvisations introduced during that period had highly political aspects. They were directed by laymen some of whom had never seen military service and whose technical knowledge was very limited. They were unaware of the major importance of materiel in military planning and were inclined to confound a temporary surge of enthusiasm- much as undoubtedly existed among the Hitler Youth Combat Units- with real fighting ability. These Party functionaries were under the erroneous impression that their own fanaticism was shared by everybody and that this alone would make up for all the shortages and deficiencies which characterize all last-minute improvisations. On the other hand, there was little opportunity for preventive measures at a time when only painstaking efforts could conceal the existing chaos. The Volkssturm might perhaps have presented such an opportunity if only it had been drawn up as a levee en masse with long-range material preparations and if entirely different slogans had been used for the mental and spiritual conditioning of the people.
II. The Volkssturrn
The most extensive improvisation undertaken by the National Socialist Party was the mobilization of the Volkssturm during the
last few months of the war. The idea was to call on the last forces of resistance the German people were capable of mustering. A misunderstood and misinterpreted tradition built on memories of 1813 may also have played its part in the minds of some Party officials.
The Volkssturm included all men up to the highest age groups as long as they were capable of bearing arms and were not already serving with the armed forces. This might have provided a broad basis for successfully mobilizing whatever fighting strength had not yet been tapped if there had not been a complete lack of weapons, clothing, and equipment. Whereas clothing and equipment might conceivably be improvised, this does not hold true of arming hundreds of thousands or even millions of men. The Wehrmacht could spare nothing. At the same time it became more and more obvious that the paramilitary Party formations had hoarded and hidden weapons and ammunition, but in view of the large number of Volkssturm draftees these weapons were of little help. Then, a Party official had the idea of manufacturing simplified Volkssturm rifles with barrels he could "procure" from some factories in Saxony. This plan was also of little consequence. Thus the whole project of staging an armed levee en masse was doomed from the very outset.
Leadership and training were two of the other problems to be solved. Among the men of the Volkssturm were many veterans of World War I. Although there had been many changes in the field of tactics, these men had sufficient military background to cope with the simple missions of which the Volkssturm was capable. To provide adequate training was a more difficult matter. Men who differed widely in age, former branch of service, or type of training, as well as men without any training whatsoever, were attending military drill periods in their spare time, as a rule on Sundays. Occasionally; in towns with local garrisons, one of two instructors were provided by regular army units. That was all the assistance the Wehrmacht could give because it had no men to spare. Moreover the Volkssturm was a Party improvisation and probably deliberately kept apart from the Wehrmacht from its initial organization.
Only when actually committed in combat was the Volkssturm to be placed under the tactical control of the Wehrmacht and fight in conjunction with the regular field forces. There was no reason for great expectations. The call to arms for an extended tour of duty was to be locally restricted. The men were to be called upon only if the enemy threatened their home county and even then they were to be used exclusively for local defense. Even that was almost too much to expect. When, toward the end of
the war, entire Volkssturm battalions were committed far away from their homes on the Eastern Front, this emergency measure was contrary to the spirit and original mission of the Volkssturm and could only lead to failure.
Guard duty and local security assignments were practically the only missions for which the Volkssturm was really qualified. Its composition, its limited training, and the fact that no more than rifles and in some cases only pistols and hand grenades could be issued as weapons, precluded its commitment in real combat operations. Since it was incapable of withstanding critical situations, the Volkssturm could only become a liability and threat to the troops it was to join in battle. Its proper mission was to construct and guard road blocks. Important psychological considerations spoke against restricting Volkssturm units to purely local commitment. Surely the primary interest of the men resided in inflicting a minimum of war damage to their home towns where their families lived. Thus, it was safe to assume that the Volkssturm men would prefer to avoid any last-ditch stand in the immediate vicinity of their home towns. The tactical commanders therefore took the precaution to suggest that road blocks and fortifications should be erected at a sufficient distance from any community in order to spare it the effects of combat action. Later orders from higher headquarters specified that no Volkssturm units should be committed any closer than thirty miles from their immediate home towns. This, however, meant a complete reversal of the basic principle of restricting the Volkssturm men to the defense of their immediate home territories.
In East Prussia the Volkssturm did a better job than anywhere else. It was there that the idea of the Volkssturm levy had originated since East Prussia was the first German province directly threatened by the enemy. There the organization and training of the Volkssturm made the greatest progress.
East Prussia alone raised thirty-two Volkssturm battalions. All of these remained in that province even when, in November 1944, the civilian population from the northern districts had to be evacuated. After that, most of the Volkssturm units were used to prepare reserve battle positions in the rear area for a possible withdrawal of the combat troops who in turn provided instructors for the Volkssturm battalions. Months of continuous instruction raised their standard of training to such a degree that a number of Volkssturm battalions were able to carry out limited combat missions. A few of these so-called special employment units were equipped with a sufficient number of modern weapons such as the most recent 75-mm. antitank guns, the latest model machine guns, and some older-type small-caliber antiaircraft
guns. Some of them even had adequate motor transportation. The units were composed of a small percentage of World War I veterans with the rest about equally divided between 16- and 17-year old youngsters and elderly men from 60 to 75. Some of the battalions were under the command of former staff officers who had distinguished themselves in World War I but were now afflicted with various physical disabilities. The majority of the battalions were short of weapons, equipment, and training, and their employment in actual combat operations was out of the question. It was planned to integrate them into the field forces only in case of a general withdrawal of the lines.
From the outset this was recognized as a serious handicap, which, however, could not be corrected since the Army had no jurisdiction over these formations. Time and again the Army requested that the battalions be immediately disbanded and all Volkssturm men fit for combat duty be transferred to the field forces. Yet every one of these requests was flatly rejected by the Party. Thus, during the latter part of January 1945 when the front began to give way, most of the Volkssturm battalions employed in East Prussia were of no use to the Army. Wherever they did not disintegrate altogether, they suffered heavy casualties. But contrary to standing orders, a few battalions had been moved up into combat alongside seasoned field units during the preceding weeks and these battalions gave a good account of themselves. Special mention is due to Volkssturm Battalion Labiau, which fought as part of a division improvised from service troops. Three times the battalion was dislodged, but in every instance it succeeded in recapturing its original position by launching counterattacks. In this bitter struggle the battalion commander and most of his troops remained on the field of battle.
At another time the Volkssturm performed less well. Showing much zeal in military matters, Party headquarters in East Prussia produced its own 75-mm. antitank guns with iron-wheeled gun mounts and conducted short training courses to familiarize members of the Volkssturm organization with the weapon. By the end of January 1945 the situation near Tapiau east of Koenigsberg was obscure. (Map 4) There, the personnel of an Army ordnance school was engaged in bitter fighting against advancing enemy armor. The commanding officer of the ordnance school had been killed and Tapiau had changed hands several times but was held by German troops at that moment. Rumor had it that enemy tanks had broken through and were advancing on Koenigsberg. Thereupon Party headquarters improvised an antitank gun battalion with twenty new 75-mm. antitank guns from its training school and dispatched it to the area east of Koenigsberg
to take up positions for the protection of that city. At sundown strong armored formations suddenly came into sight opposite the antitank gun position. This impressive spectacle caused such a state of terror among the inexperienced gun crews that they left their guns and ran for cover in all directions. Their leader, a young first lieutenant, tried in vain to stop them. Assisted by a few instructors he succeeded in getting some of the guns ready for action and was just about to open fire when he realized to his surprise that he was facing German tanks. It was the 5th Panzer Division, which, after heavy tank fighting in the area east of Tapiau, had succeeded in breaking through the enemy lines and was now assembling in this area in compliance with its orders. For once the failure of an improvisation was of distinct advantage.
III. Paramilitary Units During the Last Stage of the War
Toward the very end of the war the Party organized certain tactical units which were to be committed in the field. Political considerations predominated and outweighed all others. For some time past, elements of the Reich Labor Service had served as antiaircraft units. Since there were absolutely no other forces available, elements of labor service battalions were employed to defend the road blocks they had previously constructed.
Hitler Youth Combat Units, organized during the last weeks of the war, were assigned to the field forces on various sectors of the front. Their special task was the pursuit and destruction of enemy tanks with the help of bazookas and Panzerfausts. Just before the end of the war, Party Secretary Bormann attempted to organize an Adolf Hitler Volunteer Corps.
The accomplishments of these various paramilitary units are unknown to the authors.
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