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How Germans Handle the Rifle
By Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Lützow, edited by Unteroffizier Jan Sabol
     
The German rifleman (Schütze) is part of at least a Gruppe (8-15 men) with other rifleman and the MG. The Schütze would rarely would be acting alone with his rifle, and was not expected to alter the battlefield with it. He cannot lay down suppressive fire with it. German Gruppe doctrine is to deploy and engage the MG first and foremost, so the Gruppenführer will always concentrate on that first — the Schützen deployment is secondary and only intended to support the MG. The Germans didn't make any great effort to replace the bolt action rifle until very late because the MG.34/42 were so successful and important to section level tactics that it was thought by most to be unnecessary. Only late in the war did the other rifles make their appearance, and you'll still see twenty times more K.98s than MP.44s in 1945!

If you watch German soldiers moving in period footage, you will notice the rifle is almost always carried with the right hand only, and held down at full arm's length (known to modern hunters as the "trail carry"). This allows the rifleman to run easier and swing the left arm. It is also easier on the soldier, who carries the rifle for hours at a time (we have now added handles to the tops of modern rifles for this very reason).

    

Remember, up to the 1950s ALL Germans are taught to be right-handed as children (left-handedness was thought to be unnatural), and virtually EVERY German rifle and combat movement, from parade drill to combat movement, has the German soldier using the right (strong) arm to handle the rifle.

You will see Germans, even under fire, running with the rifle in the right hand and held down at arm's length at the balance point (see images above). It allows for free movement and speed. Do not be misled by the Reibert's drawing of the "Hinlegen„ as that drawing shows the rifle in position after the left hand has taken the fore stock to free up the right hand for breaking the fall (check out http://www.dererstezug.com/hinlegen.htm as this describes the motion correctly and with period drawings). A lot of people mistake those drawings to think that the rifle is held in the left hand, but this is not so (it would require swinging the rifle around the body in an awkward way, and makes no sense). Also, study pictures of German soldiers in basic training, and you will see the young fellows (prior farmers and city boys who've never held a firearm) doing exactly what is taught, and you'll see the rifle held on all accounts as per the textbook: in the right hand!
 
The first and foremost reaction of the Gruppe which comes under fire is to go prone -- it is NOT for the riflemen to fire wildly from the shoulder at targets they have no hope of hitting. At that point the entire Gruppe waits until the Gruppenführer has engaged his MG (he will be close to it). If imminent threat has happened, the Gruppe may open fire outright, but training was for the Gruppe to wait for the "Feuer Frei„ command before engaging with rifles. Germans were strict about this, and they did not want individual riflemen engaging before being told. The Germans call the opening of fire Feuereröffnung, and they were very serious about when it is to occur. There is a lot written in German manuals about it. They do not want nervous young soldiers giving away their position by firing prematurely. When the action starts, "Feuer Frei„ will come quickly, but in general they are taught to hold fire until ordered.
 
As an aside, you will notice there IS a way to carry the MG with the sling facing forward ready to spray bullets from the standing position...this is because, as I said before, the high rate of fire of the MG is what the Germans are bargaining on. THAT is the weapon that will do the work, not the rifle! Same goes for the MP.40 with its forward-facing ready hold. Sorry to say it, but the poor K.98 takes the back seat when it comes to sudden encounters.

The bolt action rifle is not designed for unaimed fire -- the Germans prefer it to be fired with nice aimed shots from the prone position. They place great emphasis and pride on marksmanship, and this is even evident in their steeped history of the sporting Jäger (hunter). Having said that, for close quarters the Germans do have a snapshot called the Hüftschuss. This was meant to fire at point blank from the hip, with the rifle held so that it may be thrust forward for a bayonet stab (German rifle positioning still had hints of the old musket days when the bayonet did most of the killing).  The proper position for the advance with rifle can be seen perfectly in the movie "Stalingrad" in the scene where the defecting German soldiers encounter the half-frozen refugees in a ravine. The Germans get nervous, and instinctively bring their rifles to the advance position at the hip, bayonets facing forward. At any rate, this position is not for open field, but close quarters where contact could occur in a split second.

The standard holding position for the rifle when standing is like the modern "Side Carry" or "Elbow Carry" with the rifle tucked between the right elbow and the body, under the armpit, with the left hand on the fore stock and the rifle pointed forward (see image 1). This allows for quick transition to the Hüftschuss snapshot or the bayonet thrust, and allows the right hand to be freed up for going down to Hinlegen. You may also see Germans revert to the parade drill position of resting the rifle alongside their right foot, and if you look closely at pictures, even while standing in the the dusty field between combat actions, many soldiers will instinctively wrap their right hand, fingers flat, around the fore stock as if they are on parade. It is drilled into their heads and they do it without even thinking about it (see image 2).
 
Now at this point, I often hear re-enactors cry out that by late war the training was shortened, and soldiers were less likely to be seen doing textbook maneuvers. This is not true. Even the most abbreviated training in late war was conducted by the same instructors from five years earlier (in 1940) or those who were taught BY them. The Germans did not suddenly change their training because there was no time...they simply excluded unnecessary things like the Exerziermarsch and the "Links — Um„ at the marsch, and did simpler things with less time to practice. I have seen many, many photos of late war Landser doing a lot of textbook stuff. Don't underestimate the German demand for compliance on established methods. Do not impose modern attitudes on how loose the Germans got by the end the war. I often think that reenactors who claim that specific drill and tactical details are not necessary for late-war re-enactment are just being lazy and can't be bothered to pay attention to detail. If you are in this hobby for the long run, these details SHOULD matter to you and you should know and practice them.

Also, please be very careful with veteran accounts on specific details of movement, especially on drill. It has been a long time since these noble fellows had their basic training, and the years tend to blur things. I know of a German veteran who INSISTED that the present arms position had the rifle centered on the nose. But he was mistaking the first tempo of the "Das Gewehr — über!„ command (rifle centered on face) with the final position of the Präsentiert (rifle left of the eyes), and after 60 years, who can blame him! He had been drilled repeatedly in 1944 (yes, drilled that late) about the three steps of "Das Gewehr — über!„ and his mind recalled part of that drill. He had held the first tempo with the rifle centered on his nose a hundred times with the Feldwebel yelling at him, and that is what stuck in his mind. I was taught Canadian rifle drill 20 years ago, have not done it since, and even after 20 years have forgotten many of the details. So just keep in mind that veterans must also grapple with the fog of time. Although veterans are a wonderful and fascinating source of information, we have period manuals written BY the German military, IN GERMAN, in the 1940s, for the very soldiers we are trying to portray! We must not ignore this wealth of mostly untapped knowledge! With all due respect, I would rather depend on a manual written by Heinz Deckler, and officer in the German Army in 1942, than a Hitlerjugend who manned an AA gun for six weeks at 13-years-of-age in 1945. If you think re-enacting the conflict in 1945 does not require knowing these details, then your involvement in the hobby is casual at best. This is fine, but perhaps you'd be best to re-enact Volksturm..

 

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