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Late-War German Ammunition at the Front 1945
By Jeff Johannes & Douglas Nash

In the final months of the Third Reich, the chronic shortage of raw materials required for the production of weapons and ammunition was being felt throughout the front lines. Equipment, uniforms, and weapons were being made with whatever substitute materials that were available, or, as the Germans themselves called it, “Ersatz,” that could be used in manufacturing as part of the vain attempt to sustain the German war effort for another day. Even the most sacred of soldier material – ammunition – was also being made out of substitute materials, such as lacquered steel, in order to get the most out of the dwindling stockpiles of copper and zinc. This late-war lacquered steel “Ersatz” ammunition, which was supposed to increase protection from corrosion while reducing the amount of strategic materials, such as copper and zinc, required for manufacturing, was to have detrimental effects to the soldiers on the front lines.

The following is an account of such lacquered steel ammunition being used in the finals battles around Berlin, as told by Gunther Labes, a Panzer Grenadier who was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd “Müncheberg” Panzergrenadier Regiment, Panzer Division “Müncheberg.” Labes, who was assigned as an Assistant Machine Gunner (MG Schütze 2), along with other members of his company (most of whom were formed from other units or stragglers a few days earlier), were positioned along the defenses of Seelow Heights when the Russians initiated their Berlin Offensive on April 16th, 1945.

“Due to the lack of suitable raw materials, such as copper and zinc, the cartridges for our rifles and machine guns were no longer being made of brass, but of normal steel. The unprotected steel would have normally soon rusted but, as no soldier in the German Wehrmacht could have rust on his arms and ammunition, the Aryan masterminds of the greater German Reich had come upon the solution of dipping the cartridges in transparent lacquer to prevent rusting. One would surely be overestimating the intelligence of those responsible for this decision if one accused them of sabotage! The effect this measure had on fire power of our troops is almost indescribable. The 98 Carbine then in general issue as an infantry weapon was meant to be used as a repeater, but as a result of the lacquering of cartridges, the ejection of empty cartridges after firing by means of lifting and pulling back the bolt was only seldom possible, and even then only within half a second of having fired. Usually the short time it took to reach for the knob of the bolt was sufficient to enable the cartridge to burn fast in the breech. When this occurred regularly, it was not very clever to present oneself as a target to the enemy while trying to clear the breech under cover. The rifleman therefore had to go back into the trench with his unusable weapon each time after firing and by hammering the knob of the bolt with either a hefty kick or a blow from his bayonet, pull back the bolt and force the empty cartridge out of the breech with his ramrod, providing it was long enough. Sometimes a hard bang of the stock on the bottom of the trench sufficed.

As No. 2 on the machine gun, I also had to use my ramrod on the spare gun barrels as the last cartridge regularly burned fast in the breech after a burst of fire, and consequently the barrel had to be changed after each burst and a fresh belt of ammunition fed in to prepare the next burst.

Looking back, I cannot help thinking that the musketeers of the Thirty Years War with their 17th Century weapons had a faster rate of fire on average and consequently greater firepower than we infantryman of the 20th Century with our modern automatic weapons, but supplied with lacquered ammunition!”

An ironic twist concerning the Münchenberg Panzer Division was that, at the time, it was one of the most modern-equipped military units in the world. Several of the Division’s Panzerkampfwagen V “Panther” Model Gs were equipped with FG 1250 Sperber (Sparrow) Infrared (IR) fire control systems, which was designed to be used in night combat, a ground-breaking innovation at the time. A company of Panzer Grenadiers was also equipped with the Vampir (Vampire) ZG 1229 Infrared System mounted atop their MP-44 Sturmgewehr assault rifles, but the bulk of the division’s infantry were still equipped with the obsolete Mauser 98 Carbine. One can only imagine the frustration of the members of this Division, which simultaneously fielded state-of-the-art equipment alongside some of the worst that left them virtually defenseless.



“Death Was Our Companion” by Tony Le Tissier.  Sutton Publishing Limited, 2007.

Nightfighting Panthers” found at



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