Thursday, March 26, 2015

Volkssturm-East Prussia

Plans for a militia, or home guard, had been discussed at various levels of the Party throughout the war, and the Wehrmacht staff had also considered how such a militia might be used to garrison defensive positions. On 6 September 1944, Guderian and Hitler once more discussed the matter, and the creation of this new force was officially sanctioned. Immediately, all of the rivals for power in Nazi Germany demanded the right to lead the force. Determined to prevent Himmler from securing control of this new force, Bormann was able to announce on 26 September that Hitler had entrusted the organization and leadership of the Volkssturm, as it was to be called, to the Party.

The creation of the Volkssturm, to be mobilized if the enemy crossed the German frontier, was trumpeted loudly by the German press. Immediately, it became clear that there were insufficient weapons and uniforms for the new units, and training opportunities were severely limited. Despite the propaganda, most German people could see that the Volkssturm would have little fighting power. As leaders for the new units, East Prussia Gauleiter Koch appointed only trusted Party figures, who continued to believe in Hitler, the Party and final victory. Inevitably, almost all these figures had no military experience.

Once more Koch drew on his considerable energies, this time to seek out weapons for the East Prussian Volkssturm. Nearly 500,000 Reichsmarks were spent to purchase weapons and uniforms, many of them on the black market in Italy, where some weapons were even purchased from anti-Nazi Italian partisans.  Despite this, the military value of the Volkssturm remained questionable. Koch and Himmler spoke in Leipzig shortly after the creation of the Volkssturm, but were less than fulsome in the language that they used, perhaps because they did not wish the inhabitants of areas that were still some distance from the frontline to be too alarmed by the need for such desperate measures.

German alarm at the Soviet assault was widespread, and Gauleiter Koch had already issued orders for the Volkssturm in Treuburg to be mobilized. The training of the Volkssturm was non-existent and their equipment patchy, despite Koch's attempts to acquire weapons. Even worse, there were often no uniforms for them, and consequently the Soviet forces treated them as irregular formations, exempt from what passed for the normal rules regarding prisoners on the Ostfront. In keeping with his self-image as the people's general, Koch explicitly forbade the Volkssturm commanders from communicating officially with local military commanders, with the result that regular units had to rely on local, informal contacts to determine the exact locations and strengths of Volkssturm formations. Now, Hitler authorized a more general mobilization of the Volkssturm:

While the enemy believes that we are approaching the end, we will make a second call on the strength of our people. We will and must succeed, as we did in 1939-1940, relying on our strength not only to defeat the destructive will of the enemy but to expel them from the Reich in such a way that the future of Germany, of our allies, and therefore of all Europe, is ensured and peace is secured.

The Goldap Battalion was a typical Volkssturm formation. It numbered about 400 men, and was organized in four companies. It was fortunate in that the company commanders were reserve officers. Equipped with a mixture of Russian rifles, German light machine-guns and Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons, these men now prepared to face the feared Bolsheviks. In all, perhaps 160,000 Volkssturm were mobilized, but despite repeated requests from Reinhardt and his subordinates, Koch insisted on retaining control of these men. Only in a few locations were individual Volkssturm battalions attached to regular formations.

The local Volkssturm found themselves in the thick of the fighting. The Goldap Battalion took up defensive positions north of Goldap on 18 December, and went into action three days later, pounding advancing Soviet forces with its few mortars. The Red Army infantry pulled back, but the following day there was a heavy Soviet artillery bombardment on the entire area, inflicting considerable casualties on the Volkssturm. Now under Wehrmacht command, the battalion was ordered to withdraw to the west the following day, having lost 76 men killed or wounded out of its original 400.

In his New Year 1945 message to the German nation, Hitler characteristically showed no sign of doubt:

Millions of Germans of all callings and backgrounds, men and women, youths and girls, right down to the children, have laboured with spades and shovels. Thousands of Volkssturm battalions have been raised or are being formed. Divisions have been re-equipped. People's artillery corps, rocket brigades and assault gun brigades as well as armoured formations have been deployed, fighter squadrons once more refreshed and supplied with new machines, and above all the German factories have through the efforts of their male and female workers achieved singular results. In this way, whatever our enemies destroy has been restored with superhuman diligence and heroic courage, and this will continue until one day our enemies will find their end. That, my fellow countrymen, will be regarded as the wonder of the 20th century! A people, who labour so endlessly at the front and in the homeland, who endure so much ill fortune, will never be ground down. They will come out of this furnace tested and stronger than ever before in their history.

No comments:

Post a Comment