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91 3 Training and Front Experience From Elite Army to Mass Army During the war, all the major powers strengthened their militaries many times over. The necessary expansion of the Wehrmacht after the start of the war was initially limited due to an elaborate system whereby many were designated ineligible for combat. Around 3 million to 6 million eligible young men were protected from the draft until shortly before the end of the war because of their status as skilled workers in the modern arms industry or because they were claimed by other civilian areas that were dogmatically oriented toward peace. It was not until the tide turned in Moscow at the end of 1941 that these reserves were mobilized for the Wehrmacht through various initiatives—but never sufficiently , always contested, and with little success until the situation had greatly deteriorated.This potential was not completely exhausted until the last months of the war, and then the men were thrown into the front lines with little training . This was also true to some extent of the military in general, as the efforts to comb through baggage trains, staffs, and other rear area organizations never provided enough additional fighters.1 In response to changes in the war situation, in weapons and other technology , and in the various deployment areas and missions, the Wehrmacht found itself in a permanent process of regrouping, training, disbanding, and reinventing.The Wehrmacht preserved the old traditional units, or Stammeinheiten , by continuously replenishing them with new recruits. In a process similar to cell division, cadres from the existing parent organization were used to form new units, with due regard given to cohesiveness based on regional camaraderie. The remarkable social cohesiveness of the expanding Wehrmacht was largely due to this system. Obviously, there was a great difference between the divisions of the first wave—that is, the traditional, permanent units of the peacetime army, including the elite divisions created later—and the large units that were newly established during the war in later “waves.” On average, however , a high degree of professionalism and fighting power was retained, a feat not seen in other armies under similar conditions. The efficient system of personnel replacement was supported by training 92 hitler’s wehrmacht that,despite some weaknesses and anachronisms,was able to adapt to new challenges during the war.This was most apparent in the Wehrmacht’s tactical and operational superiority over its enemies, even in extremely unfavorable conditions .It had attained “a unique combination of discipline,cohesiveness and flexibility ” (Müller and Volkmann, 344). But admittedly, with the dramatic withdrawals and defeats beginning in 1943, this capability dwindled.Training and enculturation processes were constantly being shortened to compensate for the climbing number of casualties. More responsibility was taken on by the noncommissioned officers (NCOs), as leaders of “small fighting communities.” Their story has not yet been written. Sociological studies on the military, carried out immediately after the war by the American army, confirmed the importance of small groups. They played a prominent role in battle in connection with the German approach to leadership called Auftragstaktik. In the final months of the war, the disbanding process of the Wehrmacht moved quickly.The Volkssturm, a territorial army of children and old men, provided no increase in fighting power. During enemy attacks, only momentary islands of resistance were formed. The mass of soldiers allowed themselves to be overrun and sought survival by fleeing or by being captured. How deeply the political indoctrination had actually been imprinted on the soldiers, how powerfully the Führer myth affected them, and whether knowledge or suspicion of the terrible crimes committed influenced them remain open questions. It is certain that in the final year of the war, fighting spirit and fighting capability deteriorated to the most rudimentary state. Over the course of the war, a degree of basic, workmanlike skill was also lost among the midlevel leadership.The increasingly biased selection of personnel for positions as General Staff officers and commanders, from whom Hitler expected unconditional obedience and loyalty, created a new type of officer for whom independent thinking and action were of little importance.Equally lacking was a sense of responsibility among the soldiers under them. The swashbuckling troop leader was held up as the ideal,someone who gave no thought to the larger context and limited himself to his own sphere and the daring execution of his leaders’ instructions. Despite impressive numbers with respect to the total volume of equipment in the Wehrmacht,the...


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