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The Fighting Qualities of WW2 German Soldiers

MG42 team, Battle of Belgorod, 1943

General Harold Alexander, an Ulsterman and German speaker, commanded German Freikorps troops in post war Latvia, 1919, his continuous combat experience during the inter-war period stood to him later as a British Field Marshal.

Field Marshal Alexander captured some 400 German prisoners near Rome in 1944 and found they were drawn from fifty different companies belonging to several regiments and even divisions, Kampfgruppe and ad hoc formations were commonplace, the German soldier knew his enemies' virtues all too well ensuring he was quicker at regrouping, quicker at thinning out a defensive front to provide troops to close gaps at decisive points, quicker in effecting reliefs, quicker at counter attacks and quicker at battlefield decisions. British and American troops were slow and cumbersome.

The Hitler Youth under Baldur von Schirach from 1931 onwards, was devoted to training young men Germany needed to wage war. The military nature of the Hitler Youth ensured a command structure based on seniority. Camping trips often involved war games with other regions or towns. Orienteering often led to the borders of countries Germany subsequently invaded. Practice with air guns gave way to small bore rifles, piloting gliders, sailing, truck driving, morse code and operating radios. The attractions of membership were obvious.

General, later Generalfeldmarshall von Manstein, modified the Schlieffen plan to invade and capture France using all arms at strong points of attack, resulting in the defeat of France and allies within 6 weeks. The use of highly mobile tanks, aircraft and artillery to subdue points of attack was known as Blitzkrieg - lightning war. Germany and its allies occupied mainland Europe, Germany won WW2 by June 1940. Unfortunately, Russian interference along the Danube and in Serbia drew Germany and Russia into open conflict. Germany could have invaded Spain in 1939 to seal off the Mediterranean and further dominate by seizing the Suez canal. Germany and Japan failed to coordinate their war aims, Germany could have taken Moscow if Japan invaded Russia December 1941.

In contrast the allied build up of troops at el Alamein, North Africa, November 1942 ensured, despite losing most of his tanks, Rommel was able to effect a fighting retreat and held the British army at the Mareth line Tunisia early 1943. Equally Rommel's Afrika Korps defeated the much vaunted US army at Kesserine Pass, Tunisia. The unprecedented build up of Allied forces for Operation Overlord culminating in the June 6 1944 invasion of France was contained and held up by the skilled use of the Normandy bocage terrain by determined Wehrmacht concentration of forces until the breakthrough at Falaise gap July 1944. Time and again implacable enemies, Lieutenant General Wladyslaw's Anders Polish 2nd Corps, in particular, praised the fighting qualities of the Erst Fallschirmjaeger Division at Monte Cassino where from November1943 to May 1944 the reinforced Gothic Line sustained 20,000 casualties whilst inflicting 50,000 casualties on the attacking Allies.

90% of German war casualties were sustained on the eastern front. This area of operations was not as lethal as expected. German forces crucially stretched thinly in trenches retreated 20 km west prior to any Russian artillery barrage to pre-prepared defences whilst Russian artillery fell uselessly on the original, now empty trenches. German forces, superbly equipped, at the battle of Belgorod nominally 50,000 Wehrmacht jostled back 500,000 Russians. Tanks, artillery, Henschel ground attack aircraft decimated attacking Russian infantry, advancing link armed, en masse.

US General Patton so despised the 'Rooskies' that he ordered German POWs to smarten up and prepare to take on Stalin's Red Army. General Eisenhower had to relieve Patton of his command of his favoured 3rd US Army.

No one wins a war, Britain and France lost their empires. The US became a world power because its industrial might fully defeated the German and Japanese empires. The determination of Germany, consistent with its military tradition ensured it was the leading EU economy in 2023.

Source: Moral Combat, Michael Burleigh, Harprer Press, 2011


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