Icon Logo Gun Mart

The Volkssturm

The Volkssturm

As the saying goes ‘You are only as old as you feel…’, but in the case of re-enactors of a ‘certain age’ this more of a state of mind than physical prowess. Getting old comes to all of us and no-one likes to think about having to stop doing what we enjoy. Indeed, why should we, just because we hit a certain age? I have discovered that re-enactors do not stop participating in events when they can no longer run 100 yards without stopping but instead turn to something requiring less energy. That way they can still participate in re-enactment.

There are many aspects of history which one can portray as an older re-enactor from medieval to Vietnam as I have seen at some events. A couple of years ago I mentioned how the Home Front and Britain’s Home Guard was gaining popularity and attracting interest with re-enactors as well as collectors. Well, the same goes for those groups depicting Germany during WW II and a number of re-enactors have admitted they can no longer keep up with the younger members and used their experience to depict the German Volkssturm.

Already the move has led to an interest from visitors attending events who may have otherwise only seen such things on wartime film footage in documentaries as they come to realise there is more to the Volkssturm than first meets the eye. Occasionally one sees a few Volkssturm at events but a full group known as the ‘Volkssturm V3’ has a good level of memberships and turned out at events including Fortress Wales at Caldicot Castle and War & Peace Revival. At some shows they have participated in small-scale battles, just to keep their hand in, but mainly they put on a comprehensive static display with a range of equipment and weapons.

Rank and File

The Volkssturm (Peoples’ Guard) was basically a militia, which was created by Adolf Hitler in October 1944, in order to provide manpower for the forthcoming defence of Germany using 16 to 60 year old males who were not otherwise already serving in the military. Ordinary members of this force were known as Volkssturmmann or privates.

Each district was responsible for recruiting members and the average strength of a Volkssturm battalion was around 642 men commanded by a Bataillonsfuhrer which was comparable in rank to a major. Within this structure there were unit formations which were termed company, platoon and squad, commanded respectively by a Kompaniefuhrer (Captain), Zugfuhrer (Lieutenant) and Gruppenfuhrer (Corporal).

The intention was to raise a reserve force of six million men who could be thrown into the defence of Germany against the Soviet Army advancing from the east and the Anglo-American armies from the west, but it was never realised. Senior ranking Nazis such as Goebbels and Himmler urged these men to fight through propaganda. Despite the age limit being placed on recruits men of well over 60 and boys perhaps as young as 11 or 12 years old are known to have joined the ranks. This age difference provides re-enactors with a wide spectrum when it comes to depicting a unit with young and old.

story continues below...

Just an Armband

At this stage in the war uniforms were in short supply and although some items such as caps and jackets were issued to a number of units, members of the Volkssturm wore their own clothes they would have worn going to work. Weapons were also in short supply and members were supplied with a range of captured weapons and obsolete weapons left over from WW I. These included rifles, machine guns and anything else. Some units were equipped with K98 service rifles and even Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons to try and slow down the advancing Soviet T-34 tanks.

Armbands which bore the title “Deutscher Volkssturm Wehrmacht’ in the national colours of Nazi Germany were the only official item of uniform which was issued to all Volkssturmmann and were usually worn on the left arm. There were different designs, including a version which was black printed on yellow cloth, but all were official inasmuch that they identified the wearer to the army field police. Veterans from WW I or amputees from campaigns earlier in the war turned out in their own uniforms but civilians wore their own clothes. That is why we see photographs of hundreds of men equipped with all manner of weapons wearing overcoats, trilby hats and jackets marching off to fight.

Facing the Soviet Army

The Volkssturm are sometimes referred to as Germany’s equivalent to Britain’s Home Guard, but whilst this latter force was never put to the test in battle, the Volkssturm were to be found in front line areas facing a Soviet force of over 2.5 million with tanks and artillery. Displays at re-enactment events show how these desperate men did their best in the face of such overwhelming odds. Members of groups are well researched to explain the history behind the unit and weaponry they were expected to use in battle. In fact it can be fascinating to study the efforts of the Volkssturm as much as any frontline regular fighting force.

In battle the Volkssturm came under the command of the army but the fighting ability of old men and young boys who had received very little military training was doubtful. Many ran away but just as many stood and fought. When the Soviets closed in around Berlin in April there were perhaps as many as 100 battalions of Volkssturm in the vicinity of the city. They fought in other areas as well but theirs was a lost cause against fitter, younger men, who were properly trained and equipped with modern weapons. Thousands were wounded and taken prisoner and it is believed that perhaps as many as 175,000 Volkssturm were killed and perhaps the true figure will probably never be known.

Kitting Out

Authentic-looking period clothing can be purchased from traders dealing in vintage clothing at shows such as War & Peace Revival, Military Odyssey or any one of the shows where traders are on site. It does not take a great deal of time to sort out a suitable-looking overcoat, trousers and hat to look the part. Replica armbands are available from companies such as the Aberystwyth-based Epic Militaria in Wales (www.epicmilitaria.com) and other traders who produce these items. Weapons used on displays can be a legally deactivated K98 rifles that can be obtained through suppliers’ adverts in the pages of Gun Mart. Other weapons such as the P3008 (a German attempt to copy the British Sten SMG) and other types of weapons such as replica Panzerfausts can also be obtained from various sources.

With no problem about regular uniforms and badges of rank, Volkssturm re-enactment could not be more straightforward – and it may be just what you are looking for. GM