Stormtrooper
Overview
 
Stormtroopers were specialist soldiers of the German Army
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. In the last years of the war, Stoßtruppen were trained to fight with "infiltration tactics
Infiltration tactics
In warfare, infiltration tactics involve small, lightly equipped infantry forces attacking enemy rear areas while bypassing enemy front line strongpoints and isolating them for attack by follow-up troops with heavier weapons.-Development during World War I:...

", part of the Germans' new method of attack on enemy trenches
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

. Men trained in these methods were known in Germany as Sturmmann
Sturmmann
Sturmmann was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that was first created in the year 1921. The rank of Sturmmann was used by the Sturmabteilung and the Schutzstaffel ....

(literally "storm man" but usually translated as Stormtrooper), formed into companies of Sturmtruppen ("assault troops", more often and less exactly Storm Troops).
Encyclopedia
Stormtroopers were specialist soldiers of the German Army
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. In the last years of the war, Stoßtruppen were trained to fight with "infiltration tactics
Infiltration tactics
In warfare, infiltration tactics involve small, lightly equipped infantry forces attacking enemy rear areas while bypassing enemy front line strongpoints and isolating them for attack by follow-up troops with heavier weapons.-Development during World War I:...

", part of the Germans' new method of attack on enemy trenches
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

. Men trained in these methods were known in Germany as Sturmmann
Sturmmann
Sturmmann was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that was first created in the year 1921. The rank of Sturmmann was used by the Sturmabteilung and the Schutzstaffel ....

(literally "storm man" but usually translated as Stormtrooper), formed into companies of Sturmtruppen ("assault troops", more often and less exactly Storm Troops). The infiltration tactics of the stormtroopers are still in use today, in one form or another. Other armies have also used the term "assault troops", "shock troops
Shock troops
Shock troops or assault troops are formations created to lead an attack. "Shock troop" is a loose translation of the German word Stoßtrupp...

" or fireteam
Fireteam
A fireteam is a small military unit of infantry. It is the smallest unit in the militaries that use it and is the primary unit upon which infantry organization is based in the British Army, Royal Air Force Regiment, Royal Marines, United States Army, United States Marine Corps, United States Air...

s for specialist soldiers who perform the infiltration tasks of stormtroopers.

WW1 Assault Tactics

In the first part of the war, the standard assault on a trench line consisted of a lengthy artillery barrage
Barrage (artillery)
A barrage is a line or barrier of exploding artillery shells, created by the co-ordinated aiming of a large number of guns firing continuously. Its purpose is to deny or hamper enemy passage through the line of the barrage, to attack a linear position such as a line of trenches or to neutralize...

 all along the line, attempting to smash the enemy positions, followed by a rush forward of infantry in massed lines to overwhelm any remaining defenders. This process either failed, or at most gained only a short distance, while incurring enormous casualties and the armies settled into trench warfare
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

.

Development of tactics in Allied armies

Infiltration tactics were first formally proposed in the Allied armies by French Army captain Andre Laffargue. Laffargue published a pamphlet "The attack in trench warfare" in 1915, based upon his experiences in combat that same year. He advocated that the first wave of an attack identify hard-to-defeat defenses but not attack them; subsequent waves would do this.

The French published his pamphlet "for information", but did not implement it. The British did not even translate it, but did gradually adopt the techniques, beginning with the Canadian Corps. Germany captured copies of the pamphlet in 1916, translating and issuing it to units, but already had more sophisticated infiltration tactics: an experimental Pioneer unit commanded by Hauptmann Willie Rohr had been formed in the spring of 1915, over two months before Laffargue's pamphlet was published.

The Russian army first used storm tactics at a larger scale in June 1916 during the Brusilov Offensive
Brusilov Offensive
The Brusilov Offensive , also known as the June Advance, was the Russian Empire's greatest feat of arms during World War I, and among the most lethal battles in world history. Prof. Graydon A. Tunstall of the University of South Florida called the Brusilov Offensive of 1916 the worst crisis of...

 with great success. But, due to the February Revolution
February Revolution
The February Revolution of 1917 was the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917. Centered around the then capital Petrograd in March . Its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the end of the Russian Empire...

 in Russia, no further development of the tactics was carried out on the Russian side.

The British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 traditionally relied on superior rifle fire from its units; their men were expected to outshoot the enemy. Major
Major
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

 N. R. McMahon, Chief Instructor at Hythe's Rifle School from 1905 to 1909 had suggested that the advent of machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

s (MGs) and automatic rifles, with vastly greater volume of fire, made these tactics obsolete. He argued this would be all the more apparent when armies were formed largely of partially trained troops, who would be unable to carry out complicated tactics or maintain high standards of marksmanship. His solution was to abandon the fire fight as a distinct phase of battle. McMahon recommended quick attack tactics by means of infiltration and rapid movement. In the existing British system, movement waited on fire. Thus, preliminary fire was usually a give-away. The enemy would recognize heavy fire as a prelude to movement, and thus be alerted.

Instead, soldiers should be trained to consider fire as a means to facilitate movement in progress. Movement would be a call for fire. McMahon advocated using combined arms in the attack, particularly light machine guns (some six light and two heavy MGs per battalion
Battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

) using a decentralised fire control and tactical command system (known as Auftragstaktik in German). These methods, suggested in 1909, bore a strong resemblance to the Stosstrupptaktik used by the Germans six years later.

In February 1917, the British Army issued Manual SS 143, which prescribed infiltration tactics. Using them throughout 1917 the British perfected all-arms battle. The British used rifles rather than grenades, as they were more effective. They were also supported by sophisticated sound-ranging
Sound ranging
In land warfare, sound ranging is a method of determining the coordinates of a hostile artillery battery using data derived from the sound of its guns firing...

, something the German Army never perfected. Some historians consider the British infiltration tactics more sophisticated than the German system.

Calsow Assault Detachment

The concept of "Stormtroopers" first appeared in March 1915, when the Ministry of War
Ministry of War
A Ministry of War or Ministry for War is an administrative, supply and services agency of an army, as opposed to the entire military establishment. Both Mexico and Brazil both still maintain a War Department for the support of their armies...

 directed the Eighth Army to form Sturmabteilung Calsow ("Calsow's Assault Detachment" or SA Calsow). SA Calsow consisted of a headquarters, two pioneer
Combat engineering
A combat engineer, also called pioneer or sapper in many armies, is a soldier who performs a variety of construction and demolition tasks under combat conditions...

 companies and a 37mm gun (Sturmkanone) battery. The unit was to use heavy shields and body armor
Personal armor
Personal armor is the whole of protecting clothing, designed to absorb and/or deflect slashing, bludgeoning, and penetrating attacks. They were historically used to protect soldiers, whereas today, they are also used to protect police forces, private citizens and private security guards or...

 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
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 attacks. By June, the unit had already lost half its men. Major Calsow was relieved for this, against his protests that it was not his fault that the unit was not used as intended.

Rohr Assault Battalion

The new commander of the Assault Detachment from 8 September 1915 was Hauptmann
Hauptmann
Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

(Captain) Rohr, previously commander of the Guard Rifle Battalion. The Assault Detachment was reinforced with a machine gun platoon
Platoon
A platoon is a military unit typically composed of two to four sections or squads and containing 16 to 50 soldiers. Platoons are organized into a company, which typically consists of three, four or five platoons. A platoon is typically the smallest military unit led by a commissioned officer—the...

 and flamethrower
Flamethrower
A flamethrower is a mechanical device designed to project a long controllable stream of fire.Some flamethrowers project a stream of ignited flammable liquid; some project a long gas flame. Most military flamethrowers use liquids, but commercial flamethrowers tend to use high-pressure propane and...

 platoon. The old infantry support gun
Infantry support gun
Infantry support guns are artillery weapons designed and used to increase fire power of infantry units they are intrinsic to, offering immediate tactical response to the needs of the unit's commanding officer. The designs are typically with short low velocity barrels, and light construction...

s 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, and was used throughout World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

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
Field artillery
Field artillery is a category of mobile artillery used to support armies in the field. These weapons are specialized for mobility, tactical proficiency, long range, short range and extremely long range target engagement....

 that was to be coordinated at the lowest level possible and rolling up enemy trenches using troops armed with hand grenade
Hand grenade
A hand grenade is any small bomb that can be thrown by hand. Hand grenades are classified into three categories, explosive grenades, chemical and gas grenades. Explosive grenades are the most commonly used in modern warfare, and are designed to detonate after impact or after a set amount of time...

s. These tactics were tested the first time in October 1915 in a successful assault on a French position in the Vosges Mountains
Vosges mountains
For the department of France of the same name, see Vosges.The Vosges are a range of low mountains in eastern France, near its border with Germany. They extend along the west side of the Rhine valley in a northnortheast direction, mainly from Belfort to Saverne...

.

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
Gewehr 98
The Gewehr 98 is a German bolt action Mauser rifle firing the 8x57mm cartridge from a 5 round internal clip-loaded magazine that was the German service rifle from 1898 to 1935, when it was replaced by the Karabiner 98k. It was hence the main rifle of the German infantry during World War I...

 rifle was replaced with the lighter Karabiner 98a previously used by cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

men. While continuing to train other units, the Assault Detachment also participated in many small trench raids
Trench raiding
Trench raiding was a feature of trench warfare which developed during World War I. It was the practice of making small scale surprise attacks on enemy position. Raids were made by both sides in the conflict and always took place at night for reasons of stealth...

 and attacks with limited objectives.

The first major offensive led by the new Assault Detachment was the initial German attack at Verdun
Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France...

 in February 1916. Stormtroops from the SA 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.

On 1 April 1916, the Assault Detachment was redesignated "Assault Battalion Rohr". Around this time it was expanded from two to four pioneer companies. At the same time, several Jäger
Jäger (military)
Jäger is a term that was adopted in the Enlightenment era in German-speaking states and others influenced by German military practice to describe a kind of light infantry, and it has continued in that use since then....

 battalions began retraining as new Assault Battalions.

Hutier and the last German offensive

General Oskar von Hutier
Oskar von Hutier
Oskar von Hutier was one of Imperial Germany's most successful and innovative generals of World War I.-Biography:Hutier was born in Erfurt, in the Prussian Province of Saxony...

, now commanding Eighth Army, became a champion of the new tactics, which became known as Hutier tactics
Infiltration tactics
In warfare, infiltration tactics involve small, lightly equipped infantry forces attacking enemy rear areas while bypassing enemy front line strongpoints and isolating them for attack by follow-up troops with heavier weapons.-Development during World War I:...

.
Hutier suggested an alternate approach, combining some previous and some new attacks in a complex strategy
  1. A short artillery bombardment, featuring heavy shells mixed with numerous poison gas
    Poison gas in World War I
    The use of chemical weapons in World War I ranged from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas and the severe mustard gas, to lethal agents like phosgene and chlorine. This chemical warfare was a major component of the first global war and first total war of the 20th century. The killing capacity of...

     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 gun
    Light machine gun
    A light machine gun is a machine gun designed to be employed by an individual soldier, with or without an assistant, as an infantry support weapon. Light machine guns are often used as squad automatic weapons.-Characteristics:...

    s, mortars
    Mortar (weapon)
    A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

     and flamethrower
    Flamethrower
    A flamethrower is a mechanical device designed to project a long controllable stream of fire.Some flamethrowers project a stream of ignited flammable liquid; some project a long gas flame. Most military flamethrowers use liquids, but commercial flamethrowers tend to use high-pressure propane and...

    s, 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.
  4. 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
Suppressive fire
In military science, suppressive fire is a fire that degrades the performance of a target below the level needed to fulfill its mission. Suppression is usually only effective for the duration of the fire. Suppressive fire is not always a direct form of fire towards targets; it can be an effective...

 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 over-run by stormtroopers could be attacked by the second echelon troops following the stormtroopers.

Stormtroopers in 1918

With the defeat of Russia, Germany moved troops from the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

 to reinforce the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

. This allowed them to take units out of the line for retraining as storm troopers.

On 21 March 1918, Germany launched Operation Michael
Operation Michael
Operation Michael was a First World War German military operation that began the Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. It was launched from the Hindenburg Line, in the vicinity of Saint-Quentin, France...

, a major offensive, using the new tactics. Four successive German offensives followed and for the first time in four years the stalemate of trench warfare was broken. However, the German advance failed to achieve the complete breakthrough necessary for a decisive result and in July the Allies began their Hundred Days Offensive
Hundred Days Offensive
The Hundred Days Offensive was the final period of the First World War, during which the Allies launched a series of offensives against the Central Powers on the Western Front from 8 August to 11 November 1918, beginning with the Battle of Amiens. The offensive forced the German armies to retreat...

.

Reasons for the failure of the offensive

Apart from suffering heavy casualties several other reasons for the failure of the Stormtroops have been suggested.
  1. The initial attack was against the British section of the front which was the most strongly held.
  2. The leading units were not relieved or rotated out of action and became exhausted.
  3. The terrain contained many rivers, towns, forests and canals which slowed the advance.
  4. The 1918 influenza epidemic.
  5. The capture of British stores which contained large quantities of alcohol - "not for lack of German fighting spirit, but on account of the abundance of English drinking spirit!"

Effect on the Weimar Republic

According to Vanguard of Nazism by Robert GL Waite, some of the psychological and social aspects of the Stormtrooper experience found their way into the Weimar republic paramilitary groups
Weimar paramilitary groups
Paramilitary groups were formed throughout the Weimar Republic in the wake of Germany's defeat in World War I and the ensuing German Revolution. Some were created by political parties to help in recruiting, discipline and in preparation for seizing power. Some were created before World War I....

 such as the Freikorps
Freikorps
Freikorps are German volunteer military or paramilitary units. The term was originally applied to voluntary armies formed in German lands from the middle of the 18th century onwards. Between World War I and World War II the term was also used for the paramilitary organizations that arose during...

, which were largely made up of WWI veterans. For example, the formal barrier between officer and staff was largely broken down and replaced by a fierce loyalty. There was also a 'brutalization' process owing to the uniquely violent conditions of such raids. These alienated paramilitary groups would help form a foundation for the Nazi Party's Sturmabteilung
Sturmabteilung
The Sturmabteilung functioned as a paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party . It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s...

(also known as Brown Shirts).

See also

  • Shock troops
    Shock troops
    Shock troops or assault troops are formations created to lead an attack. "Shock troop" is a loose translation of the German word Stoßtrupp...

  • Arditi
    Arditi
    Arditi was the name adopted by Italian Army elite storm troops of World War I. The name derives from the Italian verb Ardire and translates as "The Daring Ones"....

    , Italian Stormtroopers
  • Close Quarters Battle
    Close quarters battle
    Close quarters combat or close quarters battle is a type of fighting in which small units engage the enemy with personal weapons at very short range, potentially to the point of hand-to-hand combat or fighting with hand weapons such as swords or knives...

  • Melee
    Mêlée
    Melee , generally refers to disorganized close combat involving a group of fighters. A melee ensues when groups become locked together in combat with no regard to group tactics or fighting as an organized unit; each participant fights as an individual....


External links

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