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The German Army Infantry Replacement System
By Eric Tobey, revised by Jonathan Bocek


The German method of inducting and training replacements was complex and went through continual change during the war.  In order to give a "Landser's eye view" of the process and to avoid getting into a detailed thesis on the ERSATZHEER (Replacement Army), we will follow two different recruits through the system at different periods in time.


 

1940


Fritz was a resident of Wolfenbüttel in Wehrkrise XI and received his call-up in the mail in September of 1940.  The letter instructed him to report to the Infanterie Ersatz Bataillon 17 (17th Infantry Replacement Battalion) located in Braunschweig.  Although Fritz did not know it, what had happened was that this Replacement unit's affiliated field unit, the 17th Infantry, had sent back a requisition for replacements to make good its losses suffered in the invasion of France; the replacement unit then sent out the required number of induction notices to fill this request.

Fritz's first stop was the STAMMKOMPANIE of the Replacement Battalion.  This unit functioned as the reception company and its basic purpose was to induct recruits, issue uniforms and equipment, and generally begin to acclimate the recruit to military life.  It was here that Fritz would have turned in his Wehrpaß and received his Soldbuch and identity disc.

After spending a brief period (a week or two) with the stammkompanie, Fritz would have moved on to one of the four AUSBILDUNGSKOMPANIE of the Battalion.  The transfer probably meant no more than moving to another barracks in the same camp.  The first three companies were rifleman training units, and the fourth was a machine-gun training company.  After completing his training, the new soldier would graduate to the Battalion's MARSCHKOMPANIE or "transfer company".  This unit was responsible for transporting new soldiers to the field unit after issuing them the appropriate field gear.

There was one more company in the Ersatz Bataillon which hopefully Fritz would never be aquainted with: the GENESENDENKOMPANIE or Convalescent Company.  This unit was composed of previously wounded or sick men who were collected together for light duty before being sent back to the field unit.

It should be noted that during this time period, all of the replacement and training units were organized into the single Ersatz Bataillon.

1943


Hans was born in 1925 near Hannover and was called to the colors in January of 1943 by his local reporting office, Wehrmeldeamt Hannover 1A, and ordered to report to the STAMMKOMPANIE of GRENADIER ERSATZ BATAILLON 588 in Hannover.  Here he relinquished his Wehrpaß, and received his Soldbuch, ID disc, and basic uniform issue.  Immediately after induction, he and nine other recruits were sent to a camp at Nijmegen in the Netherlands for a week or two of basic military instruction.  From here he was transferred early in February to a training unit from his Wehrkrise, RESERVE GRENADIER BATAILLON 211 of the 171st Reserve Division.  This battalion was stationed in Culenborg in the Netherlands.  Before leaving Nijmegen, the replacement unit would have stamped its name in section B of page 4 of the soldiers' Soldbuchs under the heading "Zum Feldheer Abgesandt von..." (sent to the Field Army by...).  Upon reaching Culenborg, the 211th would enter itself in Section C of page 4 under the heading "Feldtruppenteil", despite the fact that this unit was not a part of the Field Army.

After completion of his training in April, Hans was sent back to the MARSCHKOMPANIE of the 211th Reserve Battalion's affiliated replacement unit, in this case GRENADIER ERSATZ BATL. 211 in Hannover.  In this unit he was transported to GRENADIER REGIMENT 895 in Hameln which was a component of INFANTERIE DIVISION 265 which was in the process of formation.  An existing Wehrkrise XI replacement unit, GRENADIER ERSATZ BTL. 12 in Halberstadt was made responsible for the new regiment, and Hans would have been sent back to this unit if for any reason he was transferred back to the Replacement Army.

Upon his arrival at Gren. Regt. 895, this unit would have notified Gren. Ers. Batl. 211 of his appearance; this was unnecessary earlier in the war because at that time the replacement units knew exactly which field unit the man would join because there was a 1 to 1 relationship between replacement units and the field units.  At an early stage in the Russian campaign however, it was often found necessary to divert replacements to field units other than that to which they were intended, and after that the affiliation from the replacement unit to the field unit was violated more and more frequently.  The affiliation from the field unit to the replacement unit, on the other hand, was always carefully maintained and was always entered by the field unit in section D of page 4 of the man's Soldbuch headed "Jetzt zustandiger Ersatztruppenteil" (Present Responsible Replacement Unit).  Oddly enough, the new replacement unit, in Hans' case Gren. Ers. Batl. 12, would not have been notified of Hans' enrollment and would remain unaware of his existence unless he was wounded or otherwise sent back for some reason.

The training units of the Replacement Army in Hans' day were split away from the replacement units for number of reasons.  First, it gave barracks room in Germany to the formations of the new units (like the 265th Division), and second it automatically provided occupation troops for the conquered territories.  Training units were formed into Reserve Divisions and were located in almost every annexed region: Holland, Belgium, France, Poland, etc..  Late in the war when the Allies were in the process of retaking these areas, the replacement and training units were once again united into single units know as GRENADIER- ERSATZ UND -AUSBILDUNGSBATAILLON.  These units were located in one area in Germany, as in the pre- and early war Ersatz Battalions.

Overall, this type of replacement system produced new soldiers who were more content than their U.S. counterparts.  During the training process they developed a sense of unit loyalty since they often knew which units they would join before going to the front, and throughout the training cycle they were with their friends and neighbors.  They seldom worried about being accepted by the old timers in the combat unit, since they would all have gone through the identical training regimen and were all from the same geographical location.  In addition, veterans from the field units were commonly used as instructors in the training and replacement units.

The net result was the production of brand-new soldiers who generally made formidable fighters.

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