The Volkssturm (lit. “folk-storm”; “People’s” or “National Militia”; Sturm lit. “storm”, may be translated in a military context with “assault”) was a German national militia of the last months of World War II. It was founded on Adolf Hitler’s orders on October 18, 1944 and conscripted males between the ages of 16 to 60 years who were not already serving in some military unit as part of a German Home Guard.
Origins and Organization German Sturm has an inherited military sense besides the meteorological, so that the term Sturm for a military assault cannot be considered a metaphor.
The new Volkssturm drew inspiration from the old Prussian Landsturm of 1813-1815, that fought in the liberation wars against Napoleon, mainly as guerrilla forces. Plans to form a Landsturm national militia in Eastern Germany as a last resort to boost fighting strength initially came from Oberkommando des Heeres chief General Heinz Guderian in 1944. Because the Wehrmacht was lacking manpower to stop the Soviet advance, men in jobs not deemed necessary or previously deemed unfit for military service were now called under arms. The Volkssturm had existed, on paper, since approximately 1925, however it was only after Hitler ordered Martin Bormann to recruit six million men for this militia that the group became a physical reality. The intended strength of six million was never attained.
In order for these militia units to be effective, Hitler and Bormann counted not only on strength in numbers, but also in fanaticism. During the early stages of Volkssturm planning, it became apparent that if militia units lacked morale they would lack combat effectiveness. To achieve the envisaged fanaticism, Volkssturm units were placed under direct command of the local Nazi party, meaning local Gau- and Kreisleiters. The new Volkssturm was also to become a nation-wide organization, with Heinrich Himmler, as Replacement Army Commander, responsible for armament and training. Though normally under party control, Volkssturm units were placed under Wehrmacht command when engaging in action.
With the Nazi Party in charge of organizing the Volkssturm, each Gauleiter, or Nazi Party District Leader, is charged with the leadership, enrollment, and organization of the Volkssturm in his district, the largest Volkssturm unit seems to correspond to the next smaller territorial subdivision of the Nazi Party organization—the Kreis.
The basic unit was a battalion of 642 men. Units were mostly composed of members of the Hitler Youth, invalids, the elderly, or men who had previously been considered unfit for military service.
A Battalion in every Kreis (roughly equivalent to a U.S. county; there are 920 kreise in Greater Germany) A Kompanie (company) in every Ortsgruppe (roughly equivalent to a U.S. Congressional district) A Zug (platoon) Zelle (literally “a cell”; roughly equivalent to a U.S. precinct) A Gruppe (squad) for every Block (city block) Each Gauleiter and Kreisleiter, has a Volkssturm Chief of Staff to assist in handling militia problems.
Training and Impact
Typically, members of the Volkssturm received only very basic military training. It included a brief indoctrination and training on the use of basic weapons such as the Karabiner 98k rifle and Panzerfaust. Because of continuous fighting and weapon shortages, weapon training was often very minimal. There was also a lack of instructors, meaning that weapons training was sometimes done by WW1-veterans drafted into service themselves. Often Volkssturm members had to familiarize themselves with their weapons when in actual combat.
There was no standardization of any kind and units were issued only what equipment was available. This was true of every form of equipment—Volkssturm members were required to bring their own uniforms and culinary equipment etc. This resulted in the units looking very ragged and, instead of boosting civilian morale, it often reminded people of Germany’s desperate state. Armament was equally diverse, while some Karabiner 98ks were on hand, members were also issued Gewehr 98s and Gewehr 71s as well as Dreyse M1907s in addition to a plethora of Soviet, Belgian, French, Italian and other weapons that had been captured by German forces during the war. The Germans had also developed primitive cheap weapons to supply the Volkssturm, like MP 3008 machine pistols and the Volkssturmgewehr 1-5 rifle. Being armed with leftovers compounded their ineffectiveness; the large number of different ammunition types also put a strain on an already burdened logistics system.
When units had completed their training and received armament, members took a customary oath to Hitler and were then dispatched into combat. Unlike most English-speaking countries, Germany had universal military service for all young men for several generations, so many of the older members would have had at least basic military training when they served in the German Army and, as noted before, many would have been veterans of the First World War. Volkssturm units were supposed to be used only in their own districts, but many were sent directly to the front lines. Their most extensive use was during the Battle of Berlin, during which Volkssturm units fought in many parts of the city. This battle was particularly devastating to its formations, however, since many members fought to the death out of fear of being captured by the Soviets. Another important Volkssturm battle was the Battle of Königsberg.