German Organization for Combat, 1944

Between 1939 and 1943 the German standard infantry division contained three regiments with a total of nine rifle battalions. Each of the infantry regiments had, besides its twelve rifle and heavy weapons companies, a 13th (infantry howitzer) and 14th (antitank) company. The division had also an antitank and a reconnaissance battalion. Organic artillery consisted of one regiment of one medium (150-mm. howitzer) and three light (105-mm. howitzer or gun) battalions with a total armament of forty-eight pieces. German division artillery was thus roughly equal to that of a U.S. division. Chiefly because of the antitank and reconnaissance units, on the other hand, the division with 17,00 men was substantially larger than its U.S. counterpart.

It was also substantially larger than could be supported by the dwindling supply of manpower after four years of war. In October 1943, the division was drastically overhauled to reduce its size while maintaining its firepower. Organization charts of the new-style division (with 13,656 men)comprising three regiments of two battalions each had only just been published when further slashes were ordered. The problem (set in January 1944 by Hitler) was to trim the personnel to something like 11,000 without affecting the combat strength. Army planners rejected this sleight of hand as impossible and contented themselves with a further cut from 13,656 to 12,769. Reductions were made chiefly in supply and overhead, and the proportion of combat to service troops was thereby raised to 75-80 percent. The result was the so-called 1944-type infantry division.

The reduction from nine infantry battalions to six was partly alleviated by the substitution of a Füsilier battalion for the old reconnaissance unit. The Füilier battalion, still charged with reconnaissance duties, was organized like a rifle battalion except that one company was equipped with bicycles and the unit had slightly more horse-drawn vehicles and some motor transport. In practice, the Füsilier battalion came to be reckoned as a seventh rifle battalion.

Besides lopping off three battalions, the new division pruned out the rifle squad and company while at the same time increasing the proportion of automatic weapons. The basic unit, the Rifle Company, was cut to 140 enlisted men and 2 officers, as compared with the U.S. Company of 187 enlisted men and 6 officers. Rifle strength in the German division was about 1,200 less than in the American but the total division firepower was superior. About equal in artillery, the German division enjoyed a slight preponderance in infantry howitzers and a heavy superiority in automatic weapons.

The 1944 infantry division was set up as the basic type for new divisions as well as for the reorganization of certain old formations, as for instance, the Luftwaffe field divisions. The division which included the bulk of Gerd von Rundstedt‘s infantry, however, the static (bodenstaendige) division, was exempted from reorganization unless specifically so ordered. The static divisions were formed at the request of Rundstedt in 1942 in order that he would have a nucleus of divisions not subject to transfer to the east. Though triangular with nine rifle battalions, they were substantially weaker than the normal old-type infantry division. They lacked the reconnaissance battalion and had only three battalions of artillery.

Although the static divisions were expressly designed as permanent garrison troops for the west, they were by no means safe from the periodic troop collection for the east. Actually, by the end of 1943, most of the divisions had lost their third regiments. Attempts in 1943 and early 1944 to rehabilitate the units and fill their ranks chiefly with 0st battalion resulted in virtual abandonment of tables of organization in favor of improvisation that reflected both the particular nature of the coastal assignments and the vicissitudes of the long struggle for manpower and equipment. In total strength and number and variety of combat units, the static divisions bore little resemblance to one another. While the 716th Division, for instance, had six battalions and only one regimental headquarters under its control on D Day, the 709th, occupying two and a half times as long coastline, had eleven battalions under three regiments.

Even after the 1944-type division had been standardized, experimentation continued. Certain divisions (notably the 77th and 91st in Seventh Army area) organized their six rifle battalions in two regiments. They lacked the füsilier battalion and had three instead of four artillery battalions. In the case of the 77th Division, this organic lack was partly made up by the attachment of an 0st battery and a Volga-Tatar rifle battalion. The 91st Division went into combat with an attached parachute regiment. The two-regiment infantry division, therefore, did not operate in T/O form in the invasion area, and for the German Army as a whole, it may be regarded as experimental and eccentric, designed further to conserve manpower but not accepted as a generally satisfactory solution.

The best infantry units in the 1944 German Army were the parachute divisions, administratively under the Luftwaffe but tactically always subordinated to Army command. Until the fall of 1943 German airborne forces comprised only one corps with two parachute divisions. At that time Goering proposed and Hitler approved a program intended to produce by the end of 1944 two parachute armies with a total strength of about 100,000 men. They were to be an elite arm and were put on an equal status with the SS units in recruiting, armament, equipment, and training.

Of the new parachute units created during the early months of 1944, OB WEST received the 3rd and 5th Divisions and the 6th Parachute Regiment (from the 2nd Parachute Division). Only the separate regiment and the 3rd Division were encountered during the fighting described in this volume. Both were first-rate fighting units.

The 3rd Parachute Division comprised three regiments of three battalions each and in addition had in each regiment a 13th (mortar) company, 14th(antitank) company, and 15th (engineer) company. The Mortar Company in the 6th Parachute Regiment actually contained the nine heavy (120-mm.) mortars which the tables of an organization called for, but in the 3rd Parachute Division, weaponing was miscellaneous, including 100-mm. mortars and 105-mm. Nebelwerfer. The parachute division had only one battalion of light artillery (twelve 70-mm. howitzers). An order of 12 May 1944 to substitute an artillery regiment with two light battalions and one medium was not carried out before the division entered combat. The same order called for the formation of a heavy mortar battalion (with thirty-six 120-mm. mortars) but this, too, was apparently not complied with. During April and May, the division was able to constitute its antiaircraft battalion which had, besides light antiaircraft artillery, twelve 88-mm. guns. The total ration strength of the division as of 22 May was 17,420. The strength of the 6th Parachute Regiment with fifteen companies was 3,457. Both were thus considerably larger than the normal corresponding infantry units. They were superior not only in numbers but in quality. Entirely formed from volunteers, they were composed principally of young men whose fighting morale was excellent.

The average age of the enlisted men of the 6th Parachute Regiment was 17l/2. The parachute units were also much better armed than corresponding army units. The rifle companies of the 6th Parachute Regiment had twice as many light machine guns as the infantry division rifle companies. The heavy weapons companies with twelve heavy machine guns and six medium mortars each were also superior in firepower to army units. The chief weakness of the parachute troops was one they shared with the rest of Rundstedt’s army-their lack of motor transport. The 6th Parachute Regiment, for instance, had only seventy trucks, and these comprised fifty different models.

Theoretically, about on a par with the parachute divisions were the Panzergrenadier divisions which, by American standards, were infantry divisions with organic tank battalions, some armored personnel carriers, and some self-propelled artillery. The only such division in the west during the invasion period was the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division (Goetz von Berlichingen). Like all SS divisions, it was substantially stronger than the corresponding army division. On the other hand, like so many west divisions, its combat strength in fact was much less than it appeared on paper. Its six rifle battalions were organized in two regiments, which were supposed to be motorized; one battalion was supposed to be armored. In reality four of the battalions had improvised motor transport (partly Italian), two being equipped with bicycles. The “tank” battalion had thirty-seven assault guns, five less than authorized. The division had no tanks. Intended personnel strength was 18,354, of which on 1 June the division actually mustered 17,321. The antitank battalion, supposed to consist of three companies of self-propelled guns, had actually only one company, equipped with nine 75-mm. and three 76.2-mm. guns. The division had a full armored reconnaissance battalion of six companies, and an antiaircraft battalion. The latter contained twelve towed 88-mm. guns as well as guns of smaller caliber, but lacked almost a fifth of its personnel.

To meet the invasion in June, OB WEST had six army and three SS Panzer divisions. Their strength and organization varied so widely that it is impossible to talk of a type. Personnel strength of the army divisions ranged from 12,768 (9th Panzer) to 16,466 (2nd Panzer). The SS divisions, which had six instead of four infantry battalions, varied from 17,590 (9th SS Panzer) to 21,386 (1st SS Panzer). All the panzer divisions were thus much larger than their American counterparts, the 1st SS being more than twice as large. On the other hand, they all had fewer tanks. Here again, individual variations were enormous. The type of organizational tables for both army and SS divisions called for a tank regiment with one battalion of Mark IV and one battalion of Mark V tanks. Each battalion was supposed to have four companies each with twenty-two tanks. The fact was quite different. Even the 2nd Panzer Division, the best prepared of the armored divisions on D Day, had less than its authorized number of the heavier MarkV’s. Each of the divisions had a separate and slightly different organization which in no case conformed to the type. The 1st SS Panzer Division, for instance, was supposed to have 45 assault guns, 21 Mark III,101 Mark IV, and 81 Mark V tanks. It had in fact the full complement of assault guns but only 88 tanks in all, including 50 IVs and 38 Vs. The table of organization for the 2d SS Panzer Division, on the other hand, called for 75 assault guns of which 33 were on hand on 1 June; 7 Mark III tanks, none on hand; 57 Mark IV tanks, 44 on hand; and 99 Mark V’s, 25 on hand.

The army panzer divisions included, in addition to the two regiments (four battalions) of infantry and one tank regiment, a self-propelled antitank battalion (armed more often with assault guns), an armored reconnaissance battalion, a towed antiaircraft battalion, and an artillery regiment with one light self-propelled battalion, one light towed battalion, and one medium towed battalion. SS divisions had an additional towed light battalion.

The miscellaneous tank armament of the panzer divisions was typical of the weaponing of nearly all units in the west and reflected the long drain on the German war economy of the Russian war and the increasing production difficulties imposed by the accelerating Allied air offensive. As long as the Russian front was the main theater of war and the west was not immediately threatened, it was natural to ship the bulk of the best material to the east and arm the west as well as possible with what was left. The policy of equipping west divisions primarily with captured materiel was laid down in December 1941 when ten divisions were ordered so equipped. The east continued to enjoy priority on new equipment until the end of 1943, and although German-made tanks and assault guns were shipped to OB WEST during that time the deliveries were often more than outweighed by the transfer of armored units. First-class armored equipment remained a comparative rarity in divisions assigned to OB WEST until 1944. At the end of October 1943, for instance, there were in the west 703 tanks, assault guns, and self-propelled 88-mm. antitank guns (called “Hornets”). At the end of December, the number had risen only to 823, the increase being largely in the lighter Mark IV tank. All the Hornets and Tiger (Mark VI)tanks had been shipped out to the Russian front, and the stock of assault guns was considerably decreased. A total of 823, moreover, compared to a planned build-up of l,226. The new year brought a change. January showed only a slight increase, but thereafter the deliveries to the west were sped up. Although most new Tiger tanks continued to go to the east, deliveries to OB WEST of the powerful Panther (Mark V) tank were notably increased. At the end of April, OB WEST had 1,608 German-made tanks and assault guns of which 674 were Mark IV tanks and 514 Mark V’s. The planned total for the end of May was 1,994.

Against the background of the disintegrating German war economy, the tank buildup in the west was a notable achievement that strikingly revealed the importance assigned to the forthcoming struggle with the Western Allies. Exponents of the theories of Blitzkrieg, like Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, the Inspector General of Panzer Troops, believed that without a large armored striking force Germany could not hope to return to offensive operations essential for ultimate victory. In late 1943, therefore, Guderian proposed and Hitler approved a scheme to form a ten-division strategic armored reserve while at the same time trying to bring all armored divisions up to strength in equipment. The need, in short, was for new tanks in large numbers. But the combined pressure of the Allied air offensive and Russian ground attack was rapidly creating an economic quagmire in which the harder the enemy struggled the deeper he sank. Russian armies were destroying existing tanks while Allied bombers were making it increasingly difficult to produce new ones. The Germans tried to find an answer in diverting additional men, materials, and factory space into the manufacture of tanks. One result was to curtail the production of prime movers and parts.

Russia was unable to withdraw its heavy guns or retrieve tanks that were damaged or out of fuel. Between October and December 1943, 979 Mark III and IV tanks and 444 assault guns were lost, in large part because they had to be abandoned in retreat. Similarly, between July and December, 2,235 artillery pieces and 1,692 antitank guns were captured or destroyed. General Guderian, at last, pointed out that there was little sense in producing more tanks and guns if they were to be thus recklessly sacrificed.

A still more important by-product of concentrating on tank manufacture at the expense of a balanced production program was the increasingly serious lack of spare parts. In June 1943 the Germans had 2,569 operational tanks with 463 in process of repair. In February 1944, only 1,519 tanks remained operational while 1,534 were under repair. During February, moreover, only 145 damaged tanks were actually returned to the front. On the first of the month, Guderian estimated that the tanks and assault guns awaiting repair equaled about nine months’ new production. At the end of March, the situation had not improved; the number of operational tanks was still decreasing despite accelerated deliveries of new machines.

Although the German Army in the west on the eve of its great test was considerably weaker than planned in equipment, quality, and numbers, it was nevertheless a force strong enough to hope for victory in a battle in which Allied materiel superiority would be partly counteracted by the natural advantages of a coastline defense. Under Rundstedt’s command on 1 June, 1944 were 58 combat divisions of which 33 were either static or reserve, suitable only for limited defense employment. There were 24 divisions classified as fit for duty in the east by reason of their relative mobility and high-grade personnel. They included 13 infantry divisions, 2 parachute divisions, 5 army panzer divisions, and 4 SS panzer and panzer grenadier divisions. One panzer division (the 21st), being still equipped in part with captured materiel, was not considered suitable for service in Russia, although in other respects it was ready for offensive use, and in fact had exceptional strength in heavy weapons.

All the infantry divisions were committed on or directly behind the coast under the command of one of the four armies or the German Armed Forces Commander Netherlands. The four armies were the First holding the Atlantic coast of France, the Seventh occupying Brittany and most of Normandy, the Fifteenth along the Kanalküste, and the Nineteenth defending the French Mediterranean coast. The Seventh Army, which was to meet the actual invasion, had fourteen infantry (including static) divisions under the control of four corps.