March 08, 2016

MTSC FIGURE OF THE WEEK #110: Stoßtruppen Verdun Sector 1918

This week we feature a figure of a German Stormtrooper as he would have looked during WWI. This 1/32nd scale figure was sculpted by Ken Osen and painted by Dave Youngquist for the Old Northwest Trading Company and is available as a resin figure kit or pre-painted pewter figure. The occasion of the centenary of World War I has brought a wealth of products to the historical hobby market. Toy soldier companies, model and figure kit manufactures, armor & aircraft, wargaming companies and publishers have been, and continue to release an unprecedented amount of products related to the war. We have posted articles on many of these products here on the blog (WWI - Reading & Referencing the Great Warand via our social media pages on Pinterest, Google+ and Facebook and will continue to do so.

The German Stormtroopers (Sturmtruppen or Stoßtruppen)
The Stormtroopers were an elite unit of German soldiers. They used rifles, knives, clubs, the first ever submachine gun, the MP-18 (in 1918) , as well as flamethrowers and many grenades. Stormtroopers were trained to use infiltration tactics, which involved sneaking past the heavily armed front lines and attacking the enemy from the rear, where they were weaker defensively. Heavily armed infantry followed with mortars and machine guns and attacked the unmolested strong points. Regular infantry mopped up the resistance. Stormtroopers were deployed with great success during.

The concept of "Stormtroopers" first appeared in March 1915, when the German Ministry of War directed the Eighth Army to form Sturmabteilung Calsow ("Calsow's Assault Detachment" or SA Calsow). SA Calsow consisted of a headquarters, two pioneer companies and a 37mm gun (Sturmkanone) battery. The unit was to use heavy shields and body armor as protection in attacks However, SA Calsow was never employed in its intended role. Instead it was sent into the line in France as emergency reinforcements during heavy Allied attacks.

Rohr Assault Battalion
The new commander of the Assault Detachment from 8 September 1915 was Hauptmann (Captain) Willy Rohr, previously commander of the Guard Rifle Battalion. The Assault Detachment was reinforced with a machine gun platoon and flamethrower platoon. The old infantry support guns had been shown to be too difficult to move across the battlefield, and a new model was developed based on captured Russian 76.2mm fortress guns and issued to the Assault Detachment.

Captain Rohr, at first experimented with the Assault Detachment's body armor and shields, but realized that speed was better protection than armor. The only item of armor kept was the Stahlhelm, a new model of steel helmet. It later became the standard in all German units by the end of the war.

The new tactics developed by Captain Rohr, building much on his own previous experiences from the front, was based on the use of squad sized stormtroops ("Sturmtruppen" or "Stoßtruppen"), supported by a number of heavy support weapons and field artillery that was to be coordinated at the lowest level possible and rolling up enemy trenches using troops armed with hand grenades. These tactics were tested the first time in October 1915 in a successful assault on a French position in the Vosges Mountains.

In December 1915, the Assault Detachment started training men of other German units in the new assault tactics. Around this time the Assault Detachment also changed some of its equipment to better fit its new requirements. Lighter footwear was issued, and uniforms were reinforced with leather patches on knees and elbows to protect them when crawling. Special bags designed to carry grenades replaced the old belts and ammunition pouches, and the standard Gewehr 98 rifle was replaced with the lighter Karabiner 98a previously used by cavalrymen. The long and impractical épée-style Seitengewehr 98 bayonet was replaced by shorter models, and supplemented with trench knives, clubs, and other melee weapons. While continuing to train other units, the Assault Detachment also participated in many small trench raids and attacks with limited objectives.

The first major offensive led by the new Assault Detachment was the initial German attack at Verdun in February 1916. Stormtroops were in the first wave, leading some units into the French trenches, attacking seconds after the barrage had lifted. This generally worked very well, even though it worked much better against the first trenchline than against the less well-known enemy rear-area.

General Oskar von Hutier, now commanding Eighth Army, became a champion of the new tactics, which became known as Hutier tactics in England and the United States. Hutier suggested an alternative approach, combining some previous and some new attacks in a complex strategy.

1. A short artillery bombardment, employing heavy shells mixed with numerous poison gas projectiles, to neutralize the enemy front lines, and not try to destroy them.
2. Under a creeping barrage, Stoßtruppen would then move forward, in dispersed order. They would avoid combat whenever possible, infiltrate the Allied defenses at previously identified weak points, and destroy or capture enemy headquarters and artillery strongpoints.
3. Next, infantry battalions with extra light machine guns, mortars and flamethrowers, would attack on narrow fronts against any Allied strongpoints the shock troops missed. Mortars and field guns would be in place to fire as needed to accelerate the breakthrough.

In the last stage of the assault, regular infantry would mop up any remaining Allied resistance. The new assault method had men rushing forward in small groups using whatever cover was available and laying down suppressive fire for other groups in the same unit as they moved forward. The new tactics, which were intended to achieve tactical surprise, were to attack the weakest parts of an enemy's line, bypass his strongpoints and to abandon the futile attempt to have a grand and detailed plan of operations controlled from afar. Instead, junior leaders could exercise initiative on the spot. Any enemy strong points which had not been overrun by stormtroopers could be attacked by the second echelon troops following the stormtroopers.

Stormtroopers in 1917
The general activation of Stosstruppen style assault troops across the whole Ottoman Army was ordered on 1 September 1917, by Enver Pasha, with the XV Corps, the First Army and the Fourth Army (operating in Palestine and Syria) to establish the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Assault Battalions respectively. In addition, he ordered each infantry division in the Yildirim Army Group and in the Fourth Army to establish assault detachments consisting of the best officers, NCOs, and men from the best units in the division. These soldiers were required to be 27 years or younger, intelligent, healthy and strong and their assault units were given a one month assault course, better rations, and a badge embroidered with a hand grenade. The divisional assault detachments later matured into assault battalions. Within the Ottoman Army, unlike the German Army, there were no Stosstruppen/assault divisions.

Old Northwest German Storm Trooper

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