Reviewed By Chuck Madurski
The Last-Ditch Weapons of the Nazi Volkssturm
By W. Darrin Weaver
Collector Grade Publications
PO Box 1046
Cobourg, Ont K9A 4W5 Canada
Phone (905) 342-3434 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
During Germany’s salad days in early World War 2, little regard was given to arming the populace and last ditch defenses or choosing between the rapidly advancing Allies in the west and the Soviet juggernaut from the east. But it wasn’t long after D-Day when officials in Hitler’s Reich, taken aback by the speed of the Allies’ approach to Germany’s borders on both sides, finally realized that, perhaps, they were losing the war and might need the help of almost everyone in the defense of the Fatherland. And just as importantly, these defenders, these “Volkssturm”, would need to be armed. Desperate Measures seeks to detail the fascinating activities around that effort, and succeeds very satisfactorily.
Divided into four major parts with seventeen chapters, Desperate Measures is an exhaustive dissertation on the many aspects of creating last-ditch arms and armies. Part I gives the general history of the Volkssturm along with information regarding the acquisition of arms used to equip them. At the very beginning, author Weaver begins with dialogue regarding the political and business climate of wartime Nazi Germany. It is important, before any discussion of the weapons themselves, that the reader has an understanding of where the Volkssturm came from, how it was conceived and organized. With so much of the German male population already in the military, where did the manpower come from? Further still, how did German officials sell the idea to the German people all the while telling them how well things were going in the war?
It turns out that the selling of the idea was easy. As Soviet forces reached the eastern fringe of the German state in the fall of 1944, the Red Army was brutal in their vengeance as they captured German towns and villages. This was repeated so often that in practically no time everyone in Germany had a pretty good idea of what was waiting for them in defeat. Between D-Day and September, 1944, 600,000 men were lost as casualties or prisoners on the Western front alone. The associated loss of equipment made it difficult for the German arms industry to keep up as well. It wasn’t until late in the war before the Nazi war machine had the country’s industries on a war footing. Prior to that, it was pretty much 40 hour work weeks and business as usual. To say the Germans didn’t have a sense of urgency until it was too late is an understatement.
Thus, Desperate Measures records the difficulty in organizing and arming a planned million man army while being choked from all sides, including the air. Yet, as many as 700 or more Battalions of Volkssturm made it into action, mostly on the eastern front. So while the kar.98 was redesigned for quicker, easier manufacture in a simplified state, civilian arms were also pressed into service. This usage was actually greater than most realize and Weaver shows this with excellent research. It also seems that civilian and club owned sporting and hunting arms may have been seized for use. Even Luftwaffe drillings were on occasion handed out for use as an infantry weapon.
Be that as it may be, the issue of captured foreign rifles was the standard. The Italian Carcano was ultimately the most commonly issued Volkssturm weapon among the fantastic variety of arms officially used, and Weaver refers to it as the true Volksgewehr. Many of these were converted to 7.92mm by the Germans.
One other interesting tidbit revealed in this section of the book is the German designation for captured Russian Winchester 1895 muskets in 7.62x54R, the Gewehr 255 (r). Seems they used any and everything they could get their hands on.
Chapter 5, the final one in Part I, revolves completely around German anti-tank weapons used by the Volkssturm, when they could get them. There is a generous amount of detail about the Panzerfaust and the Panzerschreck as well as the German improvement to the American bazooka called the Ofenrohr (Stovepipe). This final chapter of the section delights with numerous rare photos, diagrams and reprinted pamphlet pages regarding these items too.
Part II of the book is devoted to the design, development, sourcing from suppliers and manufacture (with the hope of issuance) of rifles specifically for the Volkssturm. This is the story of the home-grown Volkswaffen. Here will be found everything from the dreadfully crude Erma EMP44 to a distant relative of the G3, the Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr also known by the post-war misnomer VG 1-5, a fascinating design that required according to company documents, “three weeks to design and 3 man hours to manufacture.” The cover photo is a detail from the photo on pg 348 and is significant since it shows the VG 1-5 in action as an issued arm.
Part III of Desperate Measures is titled “Other Weapons for the Volkssturm”. While handguns and squad machine guns are here, most noteworthy items in this section are the mysterious “Potsdam Device” (Gerät Potsdam), a direct Sten copy, and the further development of it, the MP3008 (Gerät Neumünster). These were the Volksmachinenpistole and only a few thousand were made. Impetus for this line of arms was from a 1942-43 primitive weapons program inspired by the British Sten.
The MP3008 was meant to be a simplification of the already simple Sten. To further ease manufacture, they eliminated the barrel jacket, repositioned the magazine well on the underside and made it rigidly attached, reducing the time required to produce the arm to around one hour. It was really meant for Heer (Army) but its cheapness and simplicity made it attractive for the Volkssturm. During the war it was commonly referred to as Sten-Pistole, the MP3008 name is a post-war colloquialism.
Finally, in Part IV, Weaver sums up. Here will be found some stories of the tragic use of the Volkssturm, the old men, the children, and the constant shortages of even the simple arms that are the focus of the book.
Primarily a weapons book, Desperate Measures is necessarily also a history book as the end days of the European Theatre in WWII are inexorably entwined with the subject matter. As the book buying public has come to expect from Collector Grade Publications, Desperate Measures is a large format book of the highest quality, with an eye catching cover jacket and literally hundreds of photos, many rare and previously unpublished. The table of contents is so detailed as to make the omission of an index easily ignored, and the final pages are composed of several appendices including a detailed bibliography of the research that went into this wonderful book. A superb look at an ultimately hopeless cause and the “Desperate Measures” spawned by desperate times.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V12N12 (September 2009)|