Infantry of World War 2

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by plan_D, Jul 20, 2005.

  1. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    Prior to World War 2 many developments in technology occured which made World War 2 the first "modern" war. Planes zoomed through the skies at speeds reaching 600 mph - tanks and armoured transport carried forth the banner of many militaries and massive aircraft carriers sailed the oceans bringing with them a new era in naval warfare. But what would these massive leaps in military might achieve without the infantry? Nothing.

    Infantry is the oldest military "machine" from cavemen beating each other with clubs to, well whatever the future may hold. Infantry is the one arm that cannot and will not be replaced. It can be modernised changing from march to motorised infantry but the man with the club, spear, sword, pike, musket, rifle or assault rifle will always be the man raising the flag above a captured position.

    So, in World War 2, who had the supreme infantry formations? Individual natural talent does exist among soldiers but which nation trained their infantry to a point of excellence beyond all others? Which infantry formations inside the nations were the best? Who was the best at what?

    Personally, I believe the German infantry to be the best. I have read a lot about their training and their combat actions which lead me to believe they were the supreme combat troops. For anyone who has seen Band of Brothers - imagine the combat prowess of Easy Company in almost every company of the Army, and you've just about got what the Wehrmacht had. The Germans gave better than what they received during World War 2 in terms of losses - with little over 4 million deaths on all fronts. When in equal numbers no Soviet, British or American force on battalion level could hope to defeat the German force.

    However the Wehrmacht did have something missing by late 1944 - men. Germany had suffered massively during the war and lost many of it's experienced veterans and able bodied men. So, by the time the Red Army reached Berlin they were fighting old men of the People's Guard or young children of the Hitler Youth - hardly the experienced, well-trained and combat capable men of the yesteryear. Imagine a Berlin defended by the élite infantry that stormed across Poland, France and the Lowlands and Russia in 1939-1941...

    ...you could count on the Soviet losses being much-much higher.
     
  2. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    All the airplanes and ships are great to have and an invaluable asset, but you are right, wars are won with boots on the ground. They have to take, and hold the territory.

    At the beginning of the war, the Germans had some of the best men and equipment available. The Blitzkrieg tactics and highly mechanized force coupled with aircraft like the Stuka made for a powerful force that the allies were ill-prepared for. The early war German generals were skilled tacticians who knew how to fully utilize their strengths while not exposing their weaknesses.

    The allies did have some skilled generals like Patton and Montgomery later in the war that observed and learned from previous mistakes. The main problem the allies had at the beginning of the war was force stagnation and technical malaise. The allies were also studying the tactics and battles of previous wars, like WWI, where trench warfare were common.

    While everyone else was allowing their forces to get smaller and not spending tons of money on their armies and R and D, the Germans were covertly, and in some cases overtly preparing for war. Because of this, they were able to use these strengths to their fullest advantage early on.

    It is still hard for me to imagine that a country the size of Germany, could take over almost all of Europe, sections of North Africa and parts of Russia. That says alot for their infantry and military as a whole.
     
  3. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    It was an amazing feat, Nazi or not you have to admire the combat prowess of the German nation during World War 2. A common misconception is that Germany had the supreme technological advantage that allowed it to gain all it's victories. While true that Germany was in advance of the Allies and Soviets in rocketry and aerodynamic study, they never achieved victory with their technology. They achieved the real victories of 1939-1941 with inferior equipment!

    The Werhmacht was well equipped for a Blitzkrieg type war. That was the only war that would secure victory for Germany and the High Command knew it. The whole idea of an Armoured (Panzer) Division with everything sub-ordinate to the tank was new and farout in 1936 but because of people like Heinz Guderian these formations were in existence in 1939 and they were the winning factors. With close infantry support the armour provided the breakthrough, encirclement and ultimately victory.

    During the French campaign there was one unit in the Wehrmacht that was an excellent infantry formation. Fully motorised (in a time when only the ten Panzer Divisions were motorised); these three infantry regiments handed many great defeats to the Allies. The SS-VT (which would become the dreaded Waffen-SS) were only three regiments during the Fall Gelb but they provided invaluble service and secured their place in history as an excellent military organisation despite the fact that they're shrouded in myth about their policy. They probably were the greatest formation in the war when fully equipped.

    It is quite hard to believe how Germany managed it - but manage it they did and it was excellent co-operation between man and machine that did it.
     
  4. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    I believe that alot of it had to do with superior tactics. One big advantage the Germans had was with airpower. They learned alot during the Spanish Civil War that enable Luftwaffe crews to gain valuable experience. They also realized that if you control the skies, you can control the battle. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I don't think they could have adequately prepared for the massive amount of bomber formations.
     
  5. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    They also realised that aircraft had to be ready to attack on area anytime and anywhere. All formations had an air liason officer to call in air support within minutes. The Allies in 1944-'45 perfected the same system by having aircraft continually circling above the battlefields ready to go down on a call.

    I've got some opinions of the different nations' infantry - I'll try and find them. One is of the British take on the Japanese and the rest are of the German opinion of the Soviet, American and British troops.
     
  6. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    Like most my money is on the Germans as being the best. PlanD if you could find those opinions it would be very interesting, in particular the Germans views of the others.
     
  7. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    I'm in the process of finding them. They're short but still quite interesting.
     
  8. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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    I think the main problem of the Wehrmacht was that they were spread to thin and they could not recover from there losses like the allies could.
     
  9. wmaxt

    wmaxt Active Member

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    I think both Plan_D and adler pretty much said it. At the start of the war the German soldier was the best and the tactics were also very good. The problem in the war was that Hitler thought tacticly not strategicaly, blinded by his own ego. Around mid '44 the Allies had gained a lot of experiance, people like Patton were in place at the same time the most experianced Germans were much fewer and their support was less effective allowing the Allies to at least match their combat effectivness.

    I also think this was matched by the Japanese in the PTO/CBI where they were effective until the Allies caught up.

    wmaxt
     
  10. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    I don't believe the Allied infantry matched up to German infantry even in the late war months. German troops were under a fascist regime and it was victory or death much like in the Soviet Union but German troops were actually good in combat and didn't foolishly throw away lives. What that did do though was make them aggressive and aggression often saves more lives than it costs - tell that to the soldier on the ground though and he'll say "I don't care - I just don't want to get shot" he's naturally cautious.

    Allied Generals never matched their German counter-parts. Almost all Allied Generals were egotisical and always against each other - which often caused a breakdown in the war effort. The British and Americans did not get along too well during that war - which affected strategy. Alexander was probably the best Allied Commander in the ETO.

    I don't think the Japanese infantry were massively impressive overall. They were excellent in the actions prior to combat but in actual combat they were often clumsy - although tactically they had some decent generals and often moved for the flank almost with pure instinct.

    If the Allies had an a Manstein with troops like the Waffen-SS, the war could have been won in 1944.

    The closest the Allies had as frontline units comparable to German units were in the USAC - the Rangers and Airborne. In the British Army the Marines and Airborne.

    The British were the experts of guerilla warfare and special forces though. No one matched them - they had the SOE, SAS, Commandos, LRDG and Chindits. Although the Chindits were ordinary soldiers but I don't know where to place them because they were not just part of the army as such - they were just all taken from the army. Plus, they never fought the Germans...
     
  11. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    You raise a good point, d. There was alot of in-fighting amongst the allied commanders. Patton and Montgomery were always competing for resources. It is amazing that Ike was able to hold it together with all of the problems. But what is good is that during the North Africa campaign, new tactics were developed for communication and command and control to allow joint operations that were used for the rest of the war.

    While the allies made the best of it and were able to achieve victory, there were often times when things were clumsy and improvisational. Being able to adapt and proceed was a good thing for the allies. Unfortunately, experimentation in combat can be deadly.
     
  12. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    Eisenhower did an excellent job as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe - he wasn't a good tactician (far from it) but he held together the Allied forces in North West Europe at a time when the whole world knew the alliance was close to cracking.

    Cracking the Alliance on the ground and in the minds of the commanders was the point of Wacht Am Rhein. A lot was learnt in North Africa but unfortunately a lot had been forgotten or cast aside in North-West Europe.

    Above Divisional level - command was appalling, especially the supply command. They cast aside the lessons of exploitation and the inter-service and inter-commander revialry was something that made the North-West campaign possibly one the worst military campaigns (in my opinion). It was a certain victory from the start and they were handed victory on a plate time and time again - and they never gripped it.

    One fine example is the Ardennes Offensive; three German Armies punched through U.S 1st Armys line and aimed to cut off Antwerp and split the U.S and British forces. Many German commanders knew it would not work, they did not have the reserves to exploit the success. With another Panzer Armee behind what they used, they could have won but they didn't. Even Patton said "Let them drive all the way to Paris, we'll just cut them off at the back" but what did happen? They got drove a wedge and then were exhausted and halted. In no defensable positions at all and Eisenhower pushes the bulge out instead of cutting it off at the back. U.S 3rd Army and British 2nd Army could have met on the East side of the Ardennes and trapped enough German troops and equipment to make Stalingrad look like a local action!
     
  13. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    Yep, that is a very good example of letting a major operation get away. Encirclement and capture would have been the perfect way to stop that offensive. Plus it would have taken alot of those Wehmacht soldiers out of the war instead of letting them retreat to fight again.
     
  14. CharlesBronson

    CharlesBronson Well-Known Member

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    I always tough that the japanese fighting spirit and equipement ( like val, A6M) was completely overrated.

    If look at the infantry , the japs are fighting with a 1890s rifle the 6,5 Arisaka, and other litle more modern of 7,7 mm, making logistic hard.

    [​IMG]

    The infantry MG was in little cuantity and quality, even the submachinesguns are not present.

    The war crimes and atrocities comited by the Katana armed officers are only comparable with the SS Einzatzgruppe and even worst.

    The all samurai bullshit and the alleged "code of honour" of this asian soldiers concealed in many ways this poor perfomance in fighting, lack of iniciative of his commanders and others severe faults.
     
  15. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    I think you're downplaying the Japanese a little too much there. The Japanese soldier as an individual was a determined, deadly and obidient soldier.

    Some Allied PoWs even believed that the Japanese soldier was treat more harshly than themselves when they saw them marching past them on the roads. Massive packs which weighed, sometimes, over 100 lbs on the small frame of a Japanese soldier was something to marvel. They had to be pulled up when they sat down due to the huge weight.

    They were remarkable at night marches and were able to fight well in the jungle. They were also good a living off the land - they would hunt, fish and forage in the jungle for food.

    As a unit they weren't the best, far from it. The battalion, regimental and divsional commanders had a good sense of battlefield tactics. They were good tacticians and, as I said before, went for the flank almost by instinct. Below that though, they lacked a certain edge, they were clumsy in combat.

    They were certainly determined though! A unit of Japanese would lay down and die before giving up the land they held. They were also fercious but after 1942 this worked against them. The Banzai charge was soon overcame when the Allied troops were taught not to fear it. This made the Banzai Charge merely target practice for the Allied gunners.

    If you read about the Japanese in Burma and India, there's quite a lot of differing views from great to clumsy. I cannot quite make up my mind about them.
     
  16. CharlesBronson

    CharlesBronson Well-Known Member

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    Maybe, but that is my way of thinking.

    But even in this combat ground was machted and defeated by the Chindits and Marauders.

    yea, I have to agree, some living off the land to 1960s.

    ...And that is what I am talking about, there is a deference between be brave, courageos and being fatalistic about your future.
    The so-call banzai charge is only other of the imbecilic and non-inteligents japanese fighting tactics.
     
  17. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    The Marauders and Chindits were excellent fighting units - some of the best in the war. They were used well tactically as well and a lot of experience was gained while they were in the jungle.

    The Chindits were created under the idea of 'The Japanese are great at fighting in the jungle, marching in the jungle and living in the jungle but we're going to train you to be better at all of them!'

    The Marauders were only one regiment too, that's little over 3,000 men. Not exactly the whole army, they were a specialised long range penertration group. The whole Japanese Army was capable of actions like that.
     
  18. trackend

    trackend Active Member

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    The problem with the Japanese tactics was it instilled an if I'm caught I'm dead ideal amongst its opponent's so in situations such as Kohema or the Pacific Islands the allied forces out fought the Japanese and refused to give ground ending up with actions like the battle of the tennis courts because they knew to pack in was a death sentence the Japanese wasted too many of their troops in one off attacks as did the Russians Zhukov was not a great commander he would be willing to loose hundreds of thousands of his men to obtain his objective. Eisenhower as you say PD was not a great tactician but without him winning the European campaign would have been a very dodgy affair his ability to hold the alliance together with primadoners like Monty and Patton floating about and Churchill poking his useless tactical nose in can never be over stated Ike was vital to the success of the campaign.
    I think it is not recognized just how close things got In the Ardene's to a catastrophe my old man was given a cross roads to cover with a Lewis gun, to pull naval personnel ashore for soldiering duties means the situation was very serious indeed.
    As for the best troops Its a hard call overall I would tend to agree that the German Infantry in general was probably the best of the infantry but not perfect there command structure was a bit too ridged and removing the command line tended to have a more profound effect than in some other forces.
    I also agree with you D that the prowess of the Japanese as jungle fighters was matched and bettered by many troops including the Marauders, Gurkha's ,and Chindits.
    Each army had its pluses and faults the Japanese had fanatical obedience but this did not make them a better soldier in my opinion.
    As a foot note (one thing that they became well known for was there skill and use of 50mm knee mortars, a very effective weapon)

    The US undoubtedly had the finest logistics of any force if the Germans had the same it would have been goodbye Europe and Russia in double quick time fortunately they did not.

    So to pick the best infantry is not easy many had bravery but not the skills at the beginning of the war and it was a case of learn or die this was what made many infantrymen stand out, the learning process was extremely quick and combat hardened troops stood out from the new intake like sore thumbs. six weeks basic combat training is not as effective as 1 hour of the real mc Coy so by later in the war the German army began to consist of raw recruits, kids and old men (basically civvies wearing uniforms) going up against battle hardened veterans who had fought across Europe or the Russian plains.

    Specialised fighting units are a different subject in my opinion.
     
  19. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    "...Zhukov was not a great commander..."

    I disagree, I believe that Marshal Zhukov was a great commander. He excelled in armoured warfare and was very quick to exploit any breakthrough. He was mobile and was willing to use his resources to the full.

    The Red Army was always willing to give up life for land. Zhukov was merely a product of his culture, it's hardly suprising that he threw in men like they were nothing. He did, however, grasp the idea of warfare; maybe not as good as his German counter-parts but he did. You also have to look at the pre-war actions at Khalkin-Gol where Zhukov soundly defeated the Japanese with a classic pincer movement of his fast armour.

    " Eisenhower as you say PD was not a great tactician but without him winning the European campaign would have been a very dodgy affair his ability to hold the alliance together with primadoners like Monty and Patton floating about and Churchill poking his useless tactical nose in can never be over stated Ike was vital to the success of the campaign."

    I couldn't agree more. Eisenhower was a diplomat and an excellent one at that. I could think of no great feat that quelling the egos of both Montgomery and Patton while keeping the war on track. He would have probably made the name of best commander in history if he had some tactical ability but no one can be perfect. I also do agree that the campaign in North-West Europe might have been a little different had Eisenhower not been there to throw water on the Allied High Command fire.

    "I think it is not recognized just how close things got In the Ardene's to a catastrophe my old man was given a cross roads to cover with a Lewis gun, to pull naval personnel ashore for soldiering duties means the situation was very serious indeed."

    I think it's thrown completely out of proportion to be honest. The Wehrmacht had no chance to defeat the Allied army with the Ardennes Offensive. They lacked the vital reserves to exploit any breakthrough. The bulge might look big on a map but if you take into account the fact that there was nothing behind that bulge, it's really just an invitation to be encircled.

    Montgomery had already moved some of U.S 9th Army to cover the River Meuse anyway, so if 1st Army did completely collapse the Germans would have had to drive over the Meuse which 9th Army was covering - then by some miracle manage to hold off U.S 3rd Army and 21st Army Group counter-attacks. It wasn't going to happen.

    It is amazing that the only people that actually paniced were Allied High Command except a few. Patton would have let the Werhmacht drive all the way on to Paris, if they wanted. He knew they had nothing left.

    "As for the best troops Its a hard call overall I would tend to agree that the German Infantry in general was probably the best of the infantry but not perfect there command structure was a bit too ridged and removing the command line tended to have a more profound effect than in some other forces."

    I've heard the opposite. The German infantry were just as remarkable as individuals as they were with units. Take Operation Market Garden for example; the German units in Arnhem and Oosterbeek were caught completely off-guard yet without any official command the units there managed to fight British 1st Airborne to a point where they had no chance of success.

    They didn't even organise into company or platoon strength. They just went out from wherever they were and headed to the sound of shooting. Lone German troops would just march to the action and dive in the line - they didn't need an officer prodding them in the back all the way.

    Overall the German infantry had the advantage of being in a fascist culture. They were willing to die but were well educated [in combat] enough to not throw away their life in senseless charges (like the Red Army or Japanese). Where Allied troops would have surrendered, the German carried on fighting.
    In an encirclement the Wehrmacht were the best. Even in 1944-1945 if the Soviets were encircled (or just shocked for that matter) they would surrender, their morale was extremely low even in times of victory! It was easily broken, and they were easily cracked.

    There are many German encirclements, which are remarkable. If you read the state of the man and machine, it's just amazing they held on. Often they could have broken out but Hitler ordered no retreat, a shame for them really.

    "I also agree with you D that the prowess of the Japanese as jungle fighters was matched and bettered by many troops including the Marauders, Gurkha's ,and Chindits."

    No doubt about it. They had to be superior to the Japanese at their own game, it was the only way the Chindits and Marauders had any chance of victory. Interestingly enough only 3rd Battalion of the Marauders were any good at the start, they were seasoned veterans from the Pacific. 1st and 2nd Battalion were made up of the lowest population in the USAC.

    "Each army had its pluses and faults the Japanese had fanatical obedience but this did not make them a better soldier in my opinion.
    As a foot note (one thing that they became well known for was there skill and use of 50mm knee mortars, a very effective weapon)"


    I agree. Their suicide fantasy of giving their life for the emperor often cost the Japanese Army more than if they had accepted defeat and retreated. It was basically what Hitler was doing to the Wehrmacht, the only countries able to hold land to the last man and pull it off are countries with massive amounts of manpower e.g China, Soviet Union and India.

    The Japanese were very good at bringing all kinds of weapons to bare at once. The Japanese were extremely good at concealment and often in an ambush there would be everything ranging from a LMG to mortar to 75 mm infantry cannon. It gives the impression of more than there actually are.

    The Japanese were mostly let down by their poor equipment, I think. And lack of unit action. Of course they acted as a unit but I've never read anything of unit support for one another, they fought as individuals on the ground like they did in the air.

    "The US undoubtedly had the finest logistics of any force if the Germans had the same it would have been goodbye Europe and Russia in double quick time fortunately they did not."

    They had the biggest economy, they certainly did not have an efficient supply system. The North-West campaign was a shining of example of poor supply. The advanced of the Allied armies often halted soley due to lack of supply. It was also a case of discipline, the U.S Army had a severe lack of discipline.

    The Wehrmacht were extremely efficient in getting supply to the front quickly at the start of the war but with Allied air power destroying anything that moved, it was tad harder in 1944-1945.

    "... German army began to consist of raw recruits, kids and old men (basically civvies wearing uniforms) going up against battle hardened veterans who had fought across Europe or the Russian plains"

    And they still gave the Allied and Soviet armies a hard time. The Allies were not willing to sacrifice life, no matter how battle-hardened they became they weren't aggressive, they were scared of tanks and they were too cautious.

    A whole Allied column would often be stopped by a blocking position of 20 men, one FlaK 88 mm and a StuK40 because the infantry leading the advance stopped everything. If they had a little more tactical mind they could have just out-flanked the blocking position because the Germans never covered their rear against the Allies because they knew the Allies would not out-flank them!

    "Specialised fighting units are a different subject in my opinion."

    What do you consider specialised? SOE, SAS, LRDG etc? They were specialised and the best in the war, in my opinion.

    The Chindits weren't specialised, they were just excellent combat troops. And I'm proud that my Grandad served with them (had to throw that in there) It's the same for the Waffen-SS (who had over 100,000 troops at one point). The Airborne, Rangers and Marines weren't specialised either. And I'm talking about the Royal Marines not the U.S Marines. The U.S Marines were equals to their Army counter-parts, the Royal Marines were more experienced and well trained.
     
  20. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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    I believe one thing that hurt the German Infantry and the rest of the Wehrmacht was the fact that the Field Commanders had no complete control over there forces. Everything was governed by The Party. Before a German Field Marschal or Commander could exploint something on the battlefield to his advantage it had to be approved by the OKW and higher.

    Anyhow I just bought and recieved a 10 book set call the Journal of Ober Kommando der Wehrmacht. It completely covers the whole war based off of actual reports from the Wehrmacht. It includes day to day situation reports and battle reports including actual copies of the reports. It should be interesting to get some info from these books. It covers 1939 to 1945.
     
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