Daily Archives: September 23, 2009

Ein Volk Steht Auf: The German Volksturm, Ideology and late war Nazi Strategy

volksturm formationVolksturm Members

One of the more important but little understood parts of the German mobilization to defend the Reich, was the creation of the Volksturm. The Volksturm’s role in Nazi strategy and ideology is often misunderstood more than likely because on the Western Front the Volksturm was not much of a factor.  Of the major chroniclers of the war in Europe only Max Hastings in “Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945” [1] and John Erickson in “The Road to Berlin” [2] devote any attention to the subject.  Others, including B.H. Liddell-Hart’s History of the Second World War,” Chester Wilmont’s “The Struggle for Europe” and Russell Weigley’s “Eisenhower’s Lieutenants” devote no space whatsoever to the Volksturm. This is understandable. The Volksturm was far less effective than Nazi leaders would have hoped in fact militarily it was a failure because of the Nazi Party management of it.  Even German historian Walter Goerlitz’s “History of the German General Staff” devotes only one small passage to the Volksturm.[3] Other German Generals such as Generals Warlimont and Guderian and Field Marshal Kesselring mention the Volksturm but only Guderian goes into any detail about it.[4] Kesselring mentions its “propaganda value” and calls the Volksturm a “fiasco” [5] while limiting his other comments to specific uses of it.  In light of such limited analysis by leading historians David Yelton’s treatment in “Ein Volk Steht Auf”: The German Volksturm and Nazi Strategy, 1944-45 published in The Journal of Military History is highly important.

volksturm trainingVolksturm receiving training on Panzerfaust Anti-Tank Rocket

Yelton’s study is more than an analysis of military value and use of the Volksturm. The Volksturm was more than a military organization.  As a military organization it had many grave deficiencies as do all militias in a State where most able bodied men are already in the regular military components.  However, as an arm of the Nazi Party leadership’s defensive strategy to resist the allies, it played a key role.  It was a political militia designed for total war effort to defend the Germany against the advancing Allied armies in conjunction with the “miracle weapons” which were just beginning to be deployed.  Kesselring notes the propaganda value of the Volksturm, but to understand its place in Nazi strategic thinking, one has to look at the entirety of Nazi political, ideological and military thinking at this point in the war, something that Yelton does well.

Yelton makes an important point regarding Gerhard Weinberg’s assertion that most historians have neglected Germany’s late war strategy and that “Nazi Germany is viewed as having no real, coherent strategy” after 1943.[6] Yelton; like Weinberg shows how Nazi leaders believed in a reversal in the course of the war and how they “began implementing a broad and coherent strategy to this end.”[7] He discusses the influence of Nazi ideological preconceptions which impacted strategy[8] and notes the two primary purposes of the Volksturm were to stalemate the war by making the Allies fight for “every foot of German territory and maximize Allied casualties beyond which their morale…could tolerate”  and more importantly from the Nazi viewpoint to “fanaticize the civilian population ….”[9] From this point Yelton goes into a discussion of the beginnings of the Volksturm. He looks first to the mind of General Guderian[10] who advocated forming a militia to be activated when the Soviets threatened German soil. Guderian saw this in military terms. It was to be under Army Wehrkreis or Military District control on the Eastern Front and not civilian control.  It was the subsequent political machinations of Bormann, Himmler and others which expanded it to the entire nation, and placed it in the hands of Nazi Party Gauleiters who often were antagonistic to the Army.[11]

An important point is that the shift in control from the Wehrmacht Wehrkreis to Bormann’s Nazi Party control was related to the basic Nazi understanding of war, the understanding that the war was a “struggle for existence.”[12] Likewise it was a tenant of Nazi faith in racial ideology was since the the “Master Race” was being defeated by lesser races it had to be the result of “treason or sabotage in the officer corps.”[13] Thus many of the Reich’s political leaders believed that “the key to victory lay in generating a fanatical will to resist among all Germans both civilians and military.”[14] Of course this created more problems in terms of logistics and command and control for military commanders wherever the Volksturm was directed by the more paranoid of the Gauleiters.

The goal of the Volksturm was to maximize Allied casualties in the hope that one of the Allied nations would decide that the war was senseless and drop out.  The Nazis believed that this would take place while the new weapons, jet aircraft and new U-Boats wrested control of the air and sea from the Allies and the V weapons, rockets and missiles brought destruction to Britain.  A second goal was to strengthen the political will of the German population.   This goal included the political aspects of how the Party extended its influence over the military.  The Party gained control of the political indoctrination of recruits, the appointment of National Socialist Leadership Officers and increased roles for Gauleiters in preparing defenses at home and in the military chain of command.[15] Yelton’s study provides a detailed analysis of the psychological conditioning of the Volksturm instituted by Bormann including the use of propaganda and that all Volksturm training should “include some form of National Socialist “schooling.”[16] Bormann ensured that the Volksturm was made up of all components of the “racially superior” Nazi Volksgeimenschaft carefully excluding Jews, other “racially inferior” groups, as well as clergymen who might undermine the people with Christian ideas or were politically divisive or unreliable.[17] Yelton concludes by examining how the Nazi leadership attempted to raise the military value of the Volksturm by appointing Nazis who had military experience as officers. They believed that “the racial superiority of the German Volk would ultimately carry the day against their “inferior Jewish-Bolshevik-Slavic” enemies.[18]

volkssturm posterVolksturm Propaganda Poster

Yelton’s essay is important to the historian of the late war period to understand how Nazi ideology influenced the German war effort. Yelton does a commendable job in analyzing the Volksturm and its role in Nazi strategy in late 1944-45. He makes very good use of original sources as well as historic works and documents, including diaries and operations orders of Hitler, Himmler and others, correspondence between Bormann and Gauleiters.  His use of published and unpublished works dealing with the Volksturm and Nazi ideology, particularly letters and diaries serve as an important source of information about how the closely the Nazis linked ideology to the Volksturm..  Yelton’s conclusions that the Volksturm was a key component of what senior Nazis believed to be a coherent strategy to win the war are convincing.  Gerhard Weinberg also posits this view, and it gains credence when one studies other aspects of German racial war theories.

Yelton’s study shows that a more holistic approach to a military history needs to include political, ideological and other factors that lead to the formation of military strategy. In isolation the creation of the Volksturm makes little sense from a purely military point of view and most of the senior officers believed the Volksturm was a waste of manpower and weaponry.   However, if the Volksturm is viewed as part of Nazi political and racial theory it made perfect sense to Nazi leaders.

Thus, political ideologies are something to consider when one believes an opponent’s strategy is senseless or militarily suspect. Simply looking at the military side of the equation often leads to wrong answers about the nature of the conflict.  This has been the case more often than not in many ongoing conflicts today where religious and political ideology is at the center of the opponent’s resistance. It is understanding idea of the people’s war where the population is mobilized to fight the war even if militarily weak and is often related to defending one’s homeland such as the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Vietnamese who successfully opposed French, Japanese, American and Chinese efforts to subdue them.  Thus understanding helps the reader understand how a badly flawed organization can make perfect sense to the leaders employing it.   This is something that we in the Western World of the early 21st Century are not very good at doing and are currently failing at doing in Afghanistan.  The political or the political-religious ideology that drives people to fight for existence matters as much as the military understanding of the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses.  In World War Two Germany had lost most of the capacity to resist effective under the assault of the Allies and the people had become war weary.  Thus the Volksturm were doomed to fail.  However, had Germany been better organized to meet the Allied threat asymmetrically and not been so militarily defeated conventional sense, the effort of the Volksturm might have brought better results.


[1] Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 2004. Hastings’ discussion does not go into detail on the formation or organization of the Volksturm itself. He focuses more incidental aspects of training and employment as well as people’s feelings toward. He does make the connection between increasing Nazi fanaticism and the Volksturm. p.160

[2] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin” Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, 1983.   Erickson’s best contribution is noting how Martin Bormann and the Party Gauleiters controlled the Volksturm and the turf war that Heinrich Himmler waged to ensure that his Waffen-SS formations would not be deprived of manpower by his erstwhile party comrades. p.399

[3] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff,” translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953. It is interesting to note that Goerlitz attributes the formation of the Volksturm to Himmler, p.483 something repudiated by General Heinz Guderian and Yelton in this reviewed essay.  At the same time it is understandable to see how Goerlitz reaches his conclusion in light of the fact that Himmler had some control as commander of the Replacement Army.

[4] Guderian, Heinz Panzer Leader translated by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York, New York, 1957.  p. 288

[5] Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring. Greenhill Military Paperbacks, London, 1997. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag Anthenum, Bonn, 1953 and translated by William Kimber, London 1953. p.73.  Kesselring’s comments here come in comparison to the British formation of a Home Guard in 1940. In general Kesselring found these types of units to be worthless and personnel, especially older soldiers brought back on duty with regular units.

[6] Yelton, David K. Ein Volk Steht Auf: The German Volksturm and Nazi Strategy 1944-1945 in The Journal of Military History, October 2000, 64, 4. Research Library p.1061.  Although he fits Weinberg’s thesis that the Germans believed that they could still win the war and developed a strategy to do so Weinberg does not mention the Volksturm in his book although it would be easy to extrapolate from his thesis Yelton’s assertion of the Volksturm being a part of that strategy.

[7] Ibid. p.1062.

[8] Ibid. This is important as the understanding of Nazi ideology in many decisions is downplayed by many purely “military” historians.”  However, Michael Geyer in his essay German Strategy, 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Peter Paret editor, Princeton University Press, 1986 p.582 talks about the rise of political-ideological strategy in Nazi Germany where Hitler “rejected the traditional analysis of military strengths of the opposing sides….” This could be part of the reason of why many military historians fail to distinguish a discernable strategy on the part of the Germans which the Volksturm was a key element. At the same time this ties in with other over arching aspects of the Nazi war effort going to early actions against the Poles and Russians.

[9] Ibid. Yelton. Pp.1063-1064.

[10] Ibid. Yelton. p.1068. The idea was actually that of Guderian’s Chief of Staff’s predecessor General Huesinger in 1943.

[11] Ibid. Yelton pp. 1065-1066. An interesting note to this discussion is Guderian’s comments that “the Party was less interested in the military qualifications than in the political fanaticism of the men that it appointed to fill the responsible posts.” Guderian, Heinz Panzer Leader translated by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York, New York, 1957.  p. 288  Guderian’s comments are particularly relevant because he recognized that the political and ideological components of the organization outweighed the military.

[12] Ibid. Yelton p.1067  General Walter Warlimont notes that General Keitel countersigned the order forming the Volksturm with Bormann and that the order “charged the Party with the formation and leadership of this “last levy.” Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 translated by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, Novato CA. 1964. Originally published in Germany under the title Im Hauptquarier der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939-1945 Bernard und Graefe Verlag. p.479  It is interesting to note that as such this was a political and ideological decision versus a purely military one.

[13] Ibid. Yelton p. 1068

[14] Ibid. Yelton p. 1069

[15] Ibid. Yelton. pp. 1071-1072. Guderian noted how the Gauleiters on the Eastern Front would go directly to Bormann when conflict arose with the Wehrmacht. Panzer Leader p. 289

[16] Ibid. Yelton. p. 1075

[17] Ibid. Yelton pp. 1077-1079

[18] Ibid. Yelton. p.1082

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It’s Football Season…Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

“Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.”

“Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.”

George Carlin

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams (1989)

068Tranquility: Harbor Park, Norfolk VA

It’s football season again…not that there’s anything wrong with that, but my heart is elsewhere, the lush green diamonds where baseball is played.  The minor league season is over, the Norfolk Tides have gone home and baseball is only on television for me.  I don’t see how I will see a game in DC or Baltimore before the end of the season; the schedule isn’t going to work out.  Football, Hockey and Basketball will all be going soon; football of course has already begun and my winter has already started.

I have nothing against football.  I find that it is an occasionally interesting diversion during dreary fall and winter days.  Football does not hold the same fascination for me that I have for baseball.  I have played football in my sophomore year of high school.  We’ll I went to a lot of practices and got into two games for a total of about 6 plays at the end of the season.  However as a scrawny defensive lineman I did get in on two tackles and a sack.   I also had two penalties called on guys who committed personal fouls on me.  Of course they were both a lot bigger than me and somehow when I got around them one took a wing at me and another gave me a block in the back.  Now I was not very good, I worked hard but I was small and slow.  Somehow I got my sophomore letter and was named as “most inspirational player.” Now being most inspirational means that they know that you suck but appreciate the effort.   I later became one of the team trainers in my senior year.  That was a better fit, I got to fix guys rather than be clobbered by others.

So anyway, football is merely interesting to me.  I can get interested in a really good game on television. However, going to a professional game doesn’t do it for me.  Even in good seats you are pretty far from the action. For me it’s like watching 22 center fielders scrambling around the field from the upper deck.  And I’m sorry I don;t like big bucks park a half mile from the stadium.  Nor do I find that having to  watch the game on the Megatron scoreboard while I am sitting in the elements freezing my cold wet ass off to be my particular style.  Likewise drinking $10 domestic beer and eating a cold soggy hot dog is just not what I enjoy doing.  I don’t need to do that. I can actually enjoy a football game more at home, or actually the best place at Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant bar.  I actually like Biersch the best for it is the good beer and the great people that make it fun..

There are some things that make football just a game for me, versus the one true faith, the Church of Baseball.  One is the limitations of the field, I find the gridiron  to be simply confining.  It is a battlefield where the limitations of time, space, time outs and other stoppages of play break up the flow of the game.  The parity imposed by the league has in my opinion taken away from the the luster of the game, we don’t really have great dynasties now like the Raiders, Steelers, Cowboys, Broncos and 49ers.  Now we have a lot of mediocre teams mixing it up with a few really good teams.  Sure it means that the game is “more competitive” and that small markets get to see their team in the playoffs.  However the lack of dynasties and big time rivalries between dynasties has made professional football rather ordinary.  The big NCAA programs still have that but not the pros.

I find that the insufferable amount of replays does nothing for the flow of the game.  Likewise the use of the video review for almost anything seems almost to be a way remove the human element out of the officiating a football game.  In an attempt to make things “fair” the NFL has taken away much of the controversy which made the the game memorable.  Who can forget the Franco Harris catch against the Raiders in the AFC Championship, or the “immaculate deception” when the Raiders beat the Chargers.  To make mistakes is human and adds to the drama of the game.  Reply and review kill that and when I see a coach throw down the flag to request a review I want to throw up.  What I like about baseball is that bad calls are still legal because no one is perfect, especially umpires.  It is part of the game.  Sometimes I wonder if the NFL is taking humanity out of the equation.  This even comes down to silly penalties for “excessive celebration” by guys that score touchdowns.  Assessing a 15 yard penalty because a team or player is happy?

allenson arguing

“The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager…” Earl Weaver

Now I have to admit that the NFL has the best television production of any sport. They manage through an incredible amount of talk, animation, commentary and replay from every possible angle with the exception of the Center’s sphincter to show the game in all of its gory glory.  Can you imagine the sphincter cam view of the center-quarterback exchange?  I can just see and hear the John Madden commentary now “Did you see how Brady got his hands on that snap?” Or “wait a minute those fingers aren’t supposed to be there…when I was a coach….” The TV production is awesome and it  does make football on TV a pretty good deal. But for me football with all of its self imposed limitations  is not the same is baseball which is not bound by arbitrary time limits nor defined by replay. Baseball is played on a field that with just a few aspects is different in almost every stadium, how big the outfield is, how fast the infield is, how much foul territory between the foul line and the stands and even the outfield fence or wall give a stadium a personality all its own.  There is only one Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field.   A football field is a football field maybe one has better turf than another but apart from that there is little difference between one and another.

Then there are parts of the game itself that make me wonder.  The “extra point” or as it is officially known as the “Point After Touchdown”  is something that makes little sense to me. A team that scores a touchdown gets 6 points.  If they kick an abysmally short kick they get an extra point.  Of course they can do a 2 point conversion where they try to run or pass the ball into the end zone to get two points from like the 2 ½ yard line.  Now if there was something similar in Baseball it would get weird.  Think about it.  A guy hits a home run and scores. The play stops, the pitcher turns around and the guy who hit the home run goes to second base with his bat and faces home plate.  Once they are set up the pitcher pitches off the back side of the mound and the hitter gets another run by hitting the ball into the grandstand behind home plate.

Then there are “special teams.”  Are these guys really that special, unlike Jerry’s kids, and if they were why aren’t they getting more than the league minimum?  I mean really people hit on the American League for the designated hitter.  In football everyone is a designated hitter, everyone is a specialist and there are coaches for everything, Head Coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, quarterback coach, running back coach, offensive line coach, special teams coach, receivers coach, defensive line coach, linebacker coach, defensive secondary coach, strength and conditioning coach,and probably more that I am not counting. That’s like 12 coaches, maybe with all the legal problems of the players they should have a court and jail coach?  Now I’m sure in many cases having all these specialized coaches  makes the players better but once again I think it takes some of the life out of the game.  There was a time there were just a few coaches and when were not so specialized. There was a time when some football players played both offense and defense and the majority of special team’s players had roles on the offense or the defense.

The time limit that allows teams to simply run out the clock when they get a big lead takes the excitement out of the game.  How many times have you turned from a game because the game got really boring about the middle of the second quarter because one team has a huge lead and the other team is sucking like a Hoover?  In baseball you can’t run the time out, you have to pitch to each batter until you get the 27 outs.

Now I don’t take anything away from the players. There are a lot of tremendous athletes playing football and the rate of injuries and normally short career of a player that you have to respect them for the efforts that they make and the risks they take to play the game.   However, I think that the way the pros get their players is somewhat detrimental to the game and to education. Football gets almost all of its players through college football programs and invests little in player development.  Major League Baseball teams invest a huge amount of resources into layered minor league systems taking the time to develop their players.  Even the Yankees do this.

Now football, despite all the delays, replays and other stoppages can be exciting when big plays are made or when a quarterback methodically leads his team back in the final minutes of a game to win the game. At the same time there are plenty of times that the game devolves into a scrum of short gains and losses, the “three and out” that many games turn into series after series.

But most of all the games represent two distinctly different views of life and sport.  Football has become the technological gem of professional sports, but in my opinion has lost a lot of its humanity in doing so. It has become a high tech battlefield of speed and violence.  Baseball on the other hand as George Carlin said is more pastoral game from a bygone era.  A game that calls us back to more timeless American values exist.  A game which like life is played over a long season filled with ups and downs, great plays and errors.  Bad calls and weather delays keep the game real to what people experience at work or int their family.  Baseball is a game where people still matter and the public has higher expectations of the players and organizations.  I think his is why the steroids and performance enhancing drug scandals that have rocked Baseball for more than similar allegations in any other sport.

For the record my dad was a Raider and 49er fanatic who really got into the game.  He taught me baseball, but he could get very spun up about football.  He always talked about how he saw the first Oakland Raider game against the “Dallas Texans” which became the Kansas City Chiefs in the old American Football League.   I do have my favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers and my favorite player of all time is Joe Montana.

Anyway, my game is baseball, as George Carlin once remarked:

“In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!”

moon over harbor parkMoon Over Harbor Park

Having gone to war and having studied it for years, I can say that I need the peace of baseball, may April 8th come quickly.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, football, philosophy