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The Grenadier Company
The Volksgrenadier Division of 1944
The German Army of the last year of the Second World War was, at once, ultra-modern and painfully primitive. In the realm of weaponry, it had acquired such novelties as assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and anti-tank rocket launchers. In the realm of transport, however, it was much more reliant upon horse-drawn transport than it had been during the early years of the war. Similarly, while the German Army was well supplied with competent company and battalion commanders, the combination of casualties, expansion, and promotion had deprived it of the sort of platoon and squad leaders that its early war tactics had depended upon.
The designers of the component infantry units of the Volksgrenadier pattern infantry division of 1944 (32nd Mobilization Wave) attempted to make the best of this paradoxical situation. That is, they sought to make the most of the new weapons while minimizing the constraints imposed by horse-drawn transport and the shortage of peace-trained platoon and squad leaders. In particular, the authors of the tables of organization and equipment for the most common infantry unit of the Volksgrenadier division, the Grenadier Company, sought to create a simple framework for the effective employment of soldiers armed with assault rifles.
The Grenadier Company consisted of three combatant platoons. Two of these, designated as the First Assault Platoon (1. Sturmzug) and Second Assault Platoon (2. Sturmzug), specialized in combat at short ranges. The remaining platoon, with the prosaic title of Third Platoon (3. Zug) used its three light machine guns to enable the first two platoons to close with the enemy.
Within each assault platoon, the first two squads consisted of men armed with assault rifles. These were known as the First Assault Squad (1. Sturmgruppe) and Second Assault Squad (2. Sturmgruppe). The third squad, however, employed a pair of light machine guns.
Each of the squads of the Grenadier company, whether the assault squads, the machine gun squads of the assault platoons, or the squads of the third platoon, consisted of eight men. In the assault squads, all eight of the members were armed with assault rifles. In the other squads, all men other than those who operated the machine guns carried bolt-action carbines.
There were no permanent subdivisions within the assault squads. That is, there were no “teams” and no “team leaders.” Within the other two types of squads, a three-man team served each machine gun. Those men not part of machine gun teams, however, reported directly to the squad leader.
The internal organization of the Grenadier company departed from previous German practice in two important ways. First, it replaced multi-purpose sub-units, capable of both close combat and long-range fire, with specialized squads and platoons. Second, it presumed a somewhat stereotyped approach to the way that these elements cooperated with each other.
While there were two types of fighting platoons within the Grenadier company, there was only one type of platoon headquarters. This consisted of the platoon leader, two messengers, two teamsters, a medic, and a team of three rifle grenadiers. (The platoon headquarters possessed neither a platoon sergeant nor a designated leader of what, in other armies, might have been called the “headquarters squad.”)
One of the teamsters drove the two-horse wagon of the platoon. The other led the one-horse cart. Each of the three rifle grenadiers carried a bolt-action carbine that had been fitted with a “shooting cup” (Schießbecher). This enabled the rifle grenadiers to fire explosive, smoke, and anti-tank grenades out to ranges of 250 meters or so.
The headquarters of the Grenadier company consisted of the company commander, the first sergeant (Hauptfeldwebel), a leader of the headquarters section, six snipers, four radiomen, three messengers, three specialist non-commissioned officers, and a teamster. The first sergeant, the three specialist non-commissioned officers, and one of the messengers rode bicycles. Everyone else in the headquarters section, to include the company commander and the teamster who led the section’s one-horse cart, walked.
In addition to performing the traditional administrative and disciplinary duties of his rank, the first sergeant took charge of the company’s horse-drawn vehicles whenever they were separated from their parent platoons. As a result, the first sergeant often found himself located at some distance from the company headquarters. This made necessary the appointment of another non-commissioned officer, known as the “leader of the company headquarters section” (Kompanietrupp Führer) to supervise the teams and non-commissioned officers assigned directly to the company.
The six snipers formed a single squad, led by a non-commissioned officer. The messengers and radiomen, however, seem to have reported directly to the leader of the company headquarters section.
The three specialist non-commissioned officers connected the Grenadier company to the administrative and logistics infrastructure of the German Army. The “accounting leader” (Rechnungsführer) worked with paymasters at higher echelons to manage the funds needed for pay and purchases. The “weapons- and equipment leader” (Waffen- und Gerätfuhrer) supervised the maintenance of hardware and the provision of spare parts. The “medical non-commissioned officer” (Sanitäts Unteroffizier) supervised the medics (Krankenträger) assigned to platoons and managed the evacuation of wounded soldiers to aid stations.
Diagrams attached to General der Infanterie/Generalstab des Heeres Nr. 3160/449 dated 5 September 1944 (Reprint dated 1 November 1944), U.S. National Archives, Captured German Records, Microfilm Series T-78, Reel 763.
Diagrams attached to Organizations Abteilung/Generalstab des Heeres Nr. I./44 g. K dated 1 September 1944, Bundesarchiv/Militärarchiv, RH 2 1295
For Further Reading:
For an explanation of the German wave system of forming units, see S. J. Lewis, Forgotten Legions: German Infantry Policy, 1919-1943, (New York: Praeger, 1988)
For splendid descriptions of a wide variety of German units and formations of the first four years of World War II, see the works of Leo Niehorster, which can be found on his website niehorster.org.