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The German Infantry Battalion, 1939 to 1942

The basic outline of the Infantry Battalion remained unaltered during the opening
years of the war, being made up of a Headquarters, a Machine Gun Company and
three Rifle Companies.
As well as the below detailed organisations, there were Infantry Battalions on a
reduced scale of support weapons, which were more common in the early years of the
war. In 1939 for example, these tended to have no mortars and only twelve machine
guns, all of which were concentrated in the Machine Gun Company. By 1941 the
practice was becoming rarer, though some Battalions had no 8-cm Mortar
Platoon. The following lists what might then be considered the more usual frontline
organisation.
The Infantry Battalion, circa 1939 to 1940
Battalion Headquarters (5 Officers, 15 men)
Communications Platoon (19 men)
Battle Train (2 Officers, 17 men)
Rations Train (8 men)
Baggage Train (7 men)
Machine Gun Company (4 Officers, 173 men)
Company HQ (1 Officer, 20 men)
Battle Train (11 men)
Rations Train (3 men)
Mortar Platoon (1 Officer, 67 men)
Two Machine Gun Platoons, each (1 Officer, 36 men)
Three Rifle Companies (4 Officers, 186 men), each comprised of;
Company HQ (1 Officer, 11 men)

Battle Train (18 men)


Rations and Baggage Trains (6 men)
Machine Gun Section (16 men)
Three Rifle Platoons, each comprised of;
Platoon HQ (1 Officer, 3 men)
Light Mortar Section (3 men)
Three Rifle Squads, each comprised of 13 men
Total Strength of 820 all ranks (23 Officers and 797 men)
The Infantry Battalion, circa 1941 to 1942
Battalion Headquarters (5 Officers, 27 men)
Communications Platoon (22 men)
Battalion Train (32 men)
Machine Gun Company (5 Officers, 197 men)
Company HQ (1 Officer, 14 men)
Battle Train (14 men)
Rations Train (3 men)
Mortar Platoon (1 Officer, 61 men)
Three Machine Gun Platoons, each (1 Officer, 35 men)
Three Rifle Companies (4 Officers, 187 men), each comprised of;
Company HQ (1 Officer, 12 men)
Battle Train (17 men)
Rations and Baggage Trains (7 men)

Anti-tank Rifle Section (7 men)


Three Rifle Platoons, each comprised of;
Platoon HQ (1 Officer, 5 men)
Light Mortar Section (3 men)
Four Rifle Squads, each comprised of 10 men
Total Strength of 861 all ranks (22 Officers and 839 men) * Battalion HQ was
superseded during 1942 but no copies of this table appear to have survived, so the
above figures are taken from an alternative source.
Points of note
The German Infantry Battalion never gathered its overall command and service
elements into a Headquarters Company, as did the British and Americans. Another
interesting omission is a Pioneer Platoon. In practice, each Battalion selected a
number of men from within the Platoons to be trained in the role. They were detached
from their units and assembled as and when required. Also, Infantry Battalions were
never authorised their own antitank guns, such weapons remaining firmly under
Regimental control.
The elements of the Battalion
Battalion Headquarters - consisted of the Battalion Commander, Adjutant, Ordnance
and Medical Officers, and a small staff of runners and clerks.
Communications Platoon - maintained radio, wire and telephone communication
between the Battalion and higher and parallel formations.
Battalion Supply Train - contained the Battalion's small motor pool, large numbers of
horse drawn wagons and also the usual tradesmen and specialists.
The Mortar Platoon - in 1939, the Mortar Platoon of the British, French or Polish
armies had just two weapons. At the outbreak of war, the German Mortar Platoon had
six 8-cm weapons, giving the Battalion a notably higher degree of firepower than its
adversaries. The Platoon, like much of the German Army, was reliant on horses and
wagons to transport its weapons and ammunition.
The Machine Gun Platoon - the German Army had learned well the lessons taught by
the machine gun on the killings fields of the Great War. But they did not rely on the

same weapons for the next conflict, as was the case with the allies. The MG34 was a
unique concept, a General Purpose Machine Gun or GPMG. The weapon could be
mounted on a heavy tripod and fed by continuous belts of ammunition, or fired from a
bipod with a short belt contained in a drum. The toll this weapon and its successor
took on allied troops was truly terrible. Each Platoon served four MG34s, used in the
sustained fire mode on tripod mountings.
Despite the introduction of the MG34 production shortages meant that in the early
years of the war, some units were equipped with the older MG08/15 heavy machine
gun. This was a direct descendent of the Maxim machine guns but despite its age it
remained a perfectly lethal weapon, and was found in use until the end of the war in
some instances.
The Rifle Company - the Rifle Company underwent a major change following the
invasion of Poland, with a very different Rifle Squad, or Gruppe introduced as a result
of experience.
The original Squad was thirteen strong, with three Squads per Platoon. The Squad
was made up of a leader and assistant, both NCOs, and seven men, all of who were
armed with rifles. The Squad was completed by a Light Machine Gun group of four
men, armed with three pistols and one rifle and serving a single light machine
gun. Platoon HQ was nothing more than an officer and three messengers carrying a pistol and
rifles respectively. The Light Mortar Section contained an NCO and two men, all armed with
rifles and serving a single 5-cm light mortar.
This was the Squad and Platoon in use during the invasion of Poland, where it proved to be too
cumbersome a unit to operate effectively in action. Following the campaign the ten man Squad
detailed below was adopted, but it was not until early 1941 that this was reflected in the
organisational tables. It does raise the intriguing question of whether units in action in the West
in 1940 were operating on the old organisation or the new.

The new Squad was made up of an NCO, a six man rifle element and a three man
light machine gun team. The NCO was originally armed with a rifle, but as sufficient
stocks became available adopted the MP40 machine pistol. The MP40 was the
world's first mass produced submachine gun, and was constructed from pre-fabricated
metal stampings and plastic. It fired the usual 9-mm round, and became a highly
sought after allied trophy. Some one million were eventually produced. The men of
the rifle group were all armed with the Mauser bolt action rifle, an amended model of
the 1898 weapon fielded during the Great War. One of the riflemen also acted as
assistant leader. The Germans based the firepower of the squad around a single light
machine gun. The MG34 was served by a gunner and loader, each man armed with a
pistol, while a third man acted as an ammunition bearer and carried a rifle. The
original weapon was the revolutionary MG34. The Germans believed a gunner would

only have seconds to engage exposed enemy infantry before they naturally took
cover. The MG34 had an exceptionally high rate of fire for the period, enabling even
the shortest burst to unleash a tremendous volley.
With the reduction in the size of the Squad came an increase in the number of Squads
per Platoon, rising from three to four. The four Squads were directed by a Platoon
commander aided by an NCO, three runners and a supply wagon driver. The
commander was armed with a machine pistol and a semi-automatic pistol, while the
NCO was unusually authorised just a pistol. The three runners carried rifles, as did
the wagon driver. One of the runners was the first to be equipped with a telescopic
sight for his rifle. The wagon driver was responsible for the Platoon supply vehicle, a
horse drawn affair which transported the bulk of the unit's equipment. Increasingly
during 1942, it became common for the Platoon Commander to be a senior NCO
rather than a commissioned officer.
The Company Train included four stretcher bearers armed with pistols, one being
routinely attached to each Platoon. The Light Mortar Section was the same as before,
with an NCO, gunner and loader. The NCO carried a rifle, each crewman now a
pistol. The 5-cm light mortar was not a popular weapon. Unlike the British, who
used the 2-inch mortar more for smoke than effect, the Germans intended the 5-cm to
bridge the gap between maximum grenade range and minimum safe artillery range. It
was not a success, being too heavy a weapon for too small an advantage. It fell out of
use quickly once the campaign in the East began. During 1942 each Squad received a
rifle grenade launcher, used to propel a variety of high explosive and more often antitank rounds, providing a much more flexible weapon.
Company level fire support also changed considerably between 1939 and
1941. Initially, each Rifle Company had a Section of two heavy machine guns under
its own command, which when added to the eight such weapons in the Machine Gun
Company gave the Battalion a total of fourteen. By 1941, and possibly earlier, the
Company machine guns were removed and a third Platoon was added to the Machine
Gun Company, bringing the total number of weapons down slightly to twelve.
Replacing the Machine Gun Section was the Anti-tank Rifle Section. Its NCO
commanded three teams, each of a gunner and loader serving a single Panzerbuchse
38/39. The anti-tank rifle was an outmoded idea from a previous era, effective against
only the lightest of armoured fighting vehicles. The ironic reality was that many
German Infantry units did not even have the rifles until the invasion of Russia, in
which theatre of war they were infinitely outclassed by the heavier Soviet tanks. But,
as in the British and Red armies, they remained in use long after they should have to
provide the infantry soldier with some means to engage armour in the absence of the
necessary towed guns.

Company HQ provided the usual command functions. The supply role was handled
by the substantial Company Train, which included a large number of horse drawn
vehicles and a 2-ton truck.
Summary
While the above organisation was officially in use from February 1941 until the end
of 1943, the realities of war, especially on the Eastern Front, brought about many
changes. No hard and fast rules can be applied to units amending their authorised
establishment in the light of circumstance, but some general observations can be
made.
Weapons such as the 5-cm mortar and the anti-tank rifle quickly proved to be more of
an encumbrance than a valuable means of fire support, and were often
discarded. Shortages of personnel to replace casualties largely caused Rifle Platoons
to shrink from four Squads down to three. At a rough estimate, the overall effects of
these reductions could account for a total drop in personnel of approximately 120 men
from the authorised strength of some 860 all ranks. While the reality was well known
to commanders in the field, it was not until the end of 1943 that the Germany Army
introduced a new organisation for the Infantry Battalion that incorporated these
developments.