Volksgrenadier was the name given to a type of German Army division formed in the Autumn of 1944 after the double loss of Army Group Center to the Soviets in Operation Bagration and the Fifth Panzer Army to the Allies in Normandy. The name itself was intended to build morale, appealing at once to nationalism (Volk) and Germany’s older military traditions (Grenadier). Germany formed 78 VGDs during the war. Volksgrenadiers and Volksgrenadier divisions should not be confused with the Volkssturm, which is an entirely different entity.
The strategic emergency and concomitant manpower shortage resulting from the losses in mid-1944 required the creation of infantry divisions that economized on personnel and emphasized defensive strength over offensive strength. The Volksgrenadier divisions met this need by using only six line infantry battalions instead of the normal nine for infantry divisions — already a common reality for many existing divisions. The units also had a higher proportion of submachineguns and light automatic weapons and thus relied more on short-range firepower than in standard German Army infantry units. Automatic weapons like the new Sturmgewehr 44 and anti-tank weaponry like the single shot panzerfaust were also used by Volksgrenadier units.
They were organized around small cadres of hardened veteran soldiers, NCOs and officers, and then bulked out with anything the Replacement Army could supply: “jobless” personnel of the shrinking Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe, wounded soldiers from broken formations returning to duty from hospitals, older men who would have been considered too old or too unfit for the peacetime army and teenagers were recruited into the ranks.
Volksgrenadier divisions participated in the Battle of the Bulge, the defense of the Siegfried Line and Eastern Front, and in the final battles in Germany. Some divisions acquitted themselves very well and fought tenaciously while others were rushed into battle with a minimum of training and thus performed very poorly. Several Volksgrenadier divisions, especially those made up of “jobless” Wehrmacht personnel drawn from the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe, often displayed high motivation and morale which resulted in good cohesion and military effectiveness against the Allied forces in the last eight or so months (about October 1944 through May 1945) of the war in Europe.
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