Representing the pinnacle of WW2 tactical chic, the late war Volksgrenadiers in their camo outfits and assault rifles are great looking troops (just ask any Wehraboo…). I had some of Warlord’s late war plastic Grenadier sprues, so I made these dangerous looking guys:
Volksgrenadier Assault platoons
At the end of 1944 the German army started yet another major reorganisation of their ground forces. While often viewed as too little too late, the reality was that their situation was pretty dire, and they needed to reorganise anyway. They’d been strategically on the back foot ever since Kursk in mid-43, and early that year they’d suffered two horrendous defeats with Normandy in the west and the even bigger catastrophe of Bagration in the east. As the summer faded the Wehrmacht was on the ropes.
Scrounging manpower from anywhere they could find it, including pillaging the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine ranks they formed the infantry into a new model with the very ideological name of Volksgrenadiers. The word “volk” is related to the English word “folk” but the Nazis used it with connotations of patriotism, ethnic identity, and solidarity. The idea here was similar to the “Volksturm” volunteer auxiliaries, with the Nazi project crashing down all around them their masters appealed to Germans’ desire to protect their people from the onslaught.
At the platoon level the biggest innovation was the arrival of a new wonder-weapon: the Sturmgewehr 44. The first of a new class of weapons, it’s from here that we get the term “assault rifle”, a direct translation from the German. Designed to bridge the gap between rifles and sub machine guns this gave the rifleman a weapon which was equally able to put precision fire down out to realistic combat ranges (200-300m), but also allow heavy short range fire for assaults and urban fighting. This late in the war as the army was driven back towards Germany there was a lot of fighting in built up areas, where a semi-auto with a 30 round mag and the option for full auto was ideal. German scientists came up with a lot of innovations which didn’t really turn out to be practical, but they were right on the money with this one and eventually every army in the world re-equipped with similar weapons. Most impressed were the Soviets, who quickly adopted a very similar weapon. It remains a matter of debate how much influence Hugo Schmeisser (designer of the StG-44) had on the AK-47, but the Soviets definitely had him working on the project after they got him from the Americans. Either way, the Sturmgewehr was an immediate hit with German landsers who got their mitts on one.
Each rifle company was to have a mix of platoons, one equipped according to the old model (three squads, each with an LMG and the KAR98 as the personal weapon), and two “assault platoons” armed with the new rifle.
Assault platoons clearly showed new tactics were being developed to take advantage of the StG-44:
- Platoon HQ including a group of rifle grenadiers under direct control
- One fire support squad with two LMGs (8 men. Two LMGs with two crew, four men with StG-44s)
- Two rifle squads armed only with StG-44s (each 8 men)
This gave the platoon commander two fire support elements (LMGs and rifle grenadiers) and two manoeuvre elements (StG-44s). At this stage the Germans clearly thought that a squad with StG-44s would be able to operate effectively enough without its own LMG. This wasn’t an idea that survived post-war, the model that worked in actual practice was that even where troops had assault rifles they still needed their own LMG to manoeuvre effectively.
This is a bit of a change in German thinking, previously squads were set up to act fairly independently. Squad leaders were well-trained and encouraged to use their initiative. However, the quality of many of the troops formed into Volksgrenadier divisions was pretty poor, and training was often cursory. So we now see a platoon which is designed to fight and manoeuvre as a big lump.
Having said that, some Volksgrenadier units were pretty solid, and an assault platoon certainly had a lot of firepower at short to medium range. They still had two LMGs so could still threaten out to longer ranges too.
It’s probably worth mentioning that this organisation was definitely implemented by some units, but the German armed forces were falling apart by this stage, and there was no way they could re-equip all infantry divisions (even those that did get redesignated “Volksgrenadiers”). Many units either had insufficient StG-44s, or just kept using their old setup. The lack of manpower and equipment by this stage of the war meant many German units didn’t look anything like what they were supposed to on paper.
Warlord plastic late war grenadiers
If you’ve already got a late war German platoon armed with Mausers and MG42s then all you need to field a Volksgrenadier assault platoon are the additional guys with StG-44s. Squad and platoon leaders were technically issued an StG-44 as well, but plenty of SMGs were still knocking around, so I decided just to make up the 17 riflemen with assault rifles. I used Warlord’s late war plastic grenadier sprues, as I’d picked some up cheap in a half price sale.
There’s one slight drawback with them: you only get three StG-44s per sprue (which have enough bits to make six bodies). Again, I’ve fallen back on the assumption that supply of StG-44s never quite reached what it was supposed to be, and armed some men with MP40s. Especially on guys shown firing panzerfausts I think you can definitely get away with this. I’m not super anal about WYSIWYG, I’ll just count all of them as having StG-44s in a game. If you want to see exactly what’s on the sprue here it is:
I’m not normally a huge fan of plastics, but you’ve got to admit their versatility, and for projects like this that might not see huge amounts of table time they’re definitely economical. These however are great little miniatures. They look pretty natural once assembled, and don’t have that “collection of parts” look some multi-part plastics do (including some earlier Warlord kits…)
As these are late war Germans you get a more rag-tag look. Short boots across the board, with plenty of zeltbahns worn as ponchos and very few helmets lack camo covers.
When based on 1p coins they fit nicely and it makes them very stable, although there is the risk of plasticky bits sticking out and potentially getting snapped at some point. For the zeltbahns and helmets I went for the “sumpfmuster” pattern which is not only historical it’s nice and easy to paint. Tan base, then green stripes with brown splodges on top, easy peasy.
So voila, one batch of 17 figures and there’s a whole different platoon I can field. The most obvious use for these in Chain of Command is to play the “Bloody Bucket” campaign, which is set in the Battle of the Bulge and pits a Volksgrenadier unit against US Army infantry (28th Infantry Div, whose unofficial nickname gives the campaign it’s unusual title).
That won’t be happening any time soon though, we’re still fighting out way through the Battle of Kursk at the moment and Covid-19 lockdown has put the brakes on that for now.