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The 1944 Gruppe
By Eric Tobey, revised by Jonathan Bocek

The following was taken from the Die Neue Feldpost newsletter & was done so with permission of the publisher.  We would like to thank him for his generosity as well as thank all those who have contributed to this article.  It is with their efforts, we are able to share this valuable research with the rest of you.

The nine-man squad...
Almost every piece of detailed information pertaining to the German Infantry squad is based around a unit which is 10 men strong.  One of our first indications that this may not have been the standard, especially in 1944, came during an interview with Alfred Becker, an ex-Gefreiter of the 326th Volksgrenadier Division.  When asked to explain the duties of the 10 men in a German Gruppe, he replied:

"I don't remember 10 men (in the fall of 1944).  I can't remember what we had in France, but when I came back, I know we had only 9 men in a Gruppe.  I was a Stellvertretende Gruppenführer, or the assistant commander of the Gruppe.  I had a Karabiner and a smoke grenade.  Later when I commanded the Gruppe, I had the Machinenpistole.  Our Gruppenführer was an Obergefreiter and had a Maschinenpistole and a pair of binoculars.  He also had some colored ground-flags to make the American planes think we were on their side, because the American soldiers used them to mark their Stellungs.  These he wanted me to carry, and I threw them away later.  There was a machine gun soldier and his two helpers.  The two helpers carried metal boxes with the machine-gun Gurt (MG belts) in them.  Then there was four Schützen with Karabiners.  I was supposed to use these four guys to protect the machine-gun.  This made 9 men in all, we never had 10.  After the first battle you wouldn't even have 9, maybe 6 or so because you would lose some.  We might get new guys from other Gruppen that had lost their machine-gun.  You never wanted to lose your machine-gun.  If you did, they would divide the survivors up and put them into other Gruppen that still had their gun.  Of course we wanted to stay together, but after enough of the original gang was gone, it didn't really matter anyway..."

(from an interview dated Jan. 12, 1989)

And we have recently received even better information from Mr. Vince Milano, who developed some remarkable correspondence with a number of veterans, one of whom was an ex-Hauptman in the 916th Grenadier Regiment (of Normandy fame).  This veteran, Hans Heinze, provided some details regarding squad organization during the Normandy campaign:

"...unit strengths had been re-adjusted from the time I was an enlisted man from 10 per Gruppe down to 9 but with an increase in fire-power...  First was the Gruppenführer, usually an Unteroffizier, who carried an MP.  The MG 1 and 2: the light machine-gun team armed with the MG 42 without the tripod.  This team was directed by the Gruppenführer.  One man with a Schießbecher, the grenade launching rifle.  Another man, the assistant Gruppenführer with a self-loading rifle (semi-auto) with the rank of Obergefreiter who also commanded the other four men who were armed with carbines.  This, on paper, was a very effective fighting unit but we did not always have what was on paper.  Many times, especially in combat, the Gruppen were only about 5-6 men including the MG team, commanded by an Obergefreiter or Gefreiter.  Each man was required to carry an additional 200 rounds in belts for the MG, exclusive of what the 1 and 2 were carrying was 1400 rounds.  We tried to recover all of the MGs and other weapons that would give us more fire-power against the Amis (G.I.s).  Of course everyone carried as many grenades as he could, very important in hedgerow fighting, and when we could get them Panzerfausts..."

(exerted from correspondence from H. Heinze dated March 21, 1986, and included in a letter from V. Milano to E. Tobey dated Feb. 4, 1993)

Further communication with Mr. Milano provided the following information:  That the self-loading rifle referred to was usually the G/K-43, or (more rarely) the G-41.  The grenade launcher was generally given to the most experienced Grenadier in the rifle team.  The reason for this last custom was because the Schießbecher was a rather difficult weapon to master.

The slight differences in the equipment as recalled by these two veterans may have been due to several factors.  One may have been supply difficulties experienced by the 326th late in the war.  A more likely explanation would have been in the level of training the two units had.  The 352nd Division (of which GR 916 was a part) was recognized as a well-trained, motivated, and effective combat unit prior to its commitment in Normandy.  The 326th, on the other hand, (in the words of Al Becker) "...were so poorly taught that some of the men had only ever fired a half-dozen live rounds in their Karabiners in training..."  It only makes sense, therefore, given Mr. Milano's comments on the experience level needed to operate a weapon like the Schießbecher, that the 326th was to ill-trained to justify the issue of weapons like the G-43 and grenade launcher.

A final, rather humorous commentary on the other extreme of German squad organization was provided by Ferdinand (Fred) Pleschik who was a member of Landesschützen Battalion 856 during 1943 and 1944:

"...what machines guns?  We had, mein Gott, I dunno, maybe 6 men in our group.  Our leader was a big fat Unteroffizier who had a revolver that burned his hand every time he shoot it.  He hated to shoot the thing.  Good thing for us maybe because he had glasses thick as portholes.  He probably would have plinked one of us.  We all had these Russian guns, still had the star on the metal.  These guns were big and clumsy, about as much a precision instrument as a sledge hammer.  But simple, just the type of thing you would want to issue to some dumb Ivan who needs training just to use a spoon.  Grenades?  Ha ha ha.  If we had them, old Papa Strohman probably wouldn't be here talking to you today... we did have a few of the kind with a handle on them... we weren't exactly one of the best units, you see..."

(from an interview dated August 10th, 1990)

So, where would der Erste Zug's impressions fit into this range of organization?  Well, since most of the time we do not portray units of "Papa Strohman's" quality, we will follow the Gruppe setup described by Becker & Heinze.  

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