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Tactics in
Fading Legions




The Men Behind the Counters
The German Infantry Platoon
By Dave Murray
January 2013

In the second of this series on the men behind the counters I look at the workhorse of the German army, the infantry platoon.

The ubiquitous German infantry platoon was the backbone of the German military machine. While the Panzers and Luftwaffe get the glory, this humble unit paved the way for Germany’s initial successes and ultimate tenacity on the defence.

The German standard infantry platoon is at the heart of what made the German military machine of the Second World War so formidable. The infantry platoons of the German army had far more freedom of action than that of other nations. It was left to the men on the ground to decide the most appropriate way of achieving their objective, and junior officers were encouraged to choose the most “aggressive” choice if appropriate. These small units taking quick, decisive action decided the outcome of many battles.

German infantry training created a strong “espirit de corps” among the men of a platoon. Despite the heavy losses and reduction in quality of some units as the war dragged on, there was always a small core of experienced men that led by example and maintained a strong sense of purpose and discipline.

A typical German platoon in 1939 as they advanced through Poland is represented by a 5-3 INF counter. It would have consisted of the following:

  • 1 platoon commander armed with a pistol
  • 1 platoon leader, a NCO armed with a rifle (he would normally command the mortar section)
  • 3 messengers armed with rifles.
  • 2 soldiers armed with rifles and equipped with a 5 cm mortar.

The platoon would have 3 squads each with:

  • 1 squad leader, a NCO armed with a rifle.
  • 1 assistant leader, a NCO armed with a rifle.
  • 7 soldiers armed with rifles.
  • 4 soldiers manning one MG34 with pistols and one rifle.

The large squads of the infantry platoons were found to be too cumbersome to use in actual combat and after the fall of Poland they were reorganised into smaller 10-man squads. By the time of the invasion of Russia the platoon had evolved into the following (still represented by a 5-3 INF counter):

  • 1 platoon commander armed with a submachine gun and an automatic pistol.
  • 1 platoon leader, a NCO armed with a pistol.
  • 3 messengers armed with rifles (one equipped with telescopic sights.)
  • 1 stretcher bearer armed with a rifle (this soldier was actually part of the company train but one was routinely attached to each platoon).
  • 2 soldiers armed with rifles and equipped with a 5cm mortar. (The 5cm mortar was not a popular weapon, being heavy and not very effective, and on the Eastern Front was routinely not deployed.)

The platoon would have four squads each with:

  • 1 squad leader, a NCO armed with a rifle being replaced by the MP40 as stocks warranted.
  • 1 assistant leader armed with a rifle.
  • 6 soldiers armed with rifles.
  • 1 machine gunner with an MG34 and pistol.
  • 1 assistant gunner with a pistol.
  • 1 MG ammunition carrier with a rifle.

That was the shape of the Wehrmacht as they swept into Russian in 1941. But the swift victories that previous campaigns had suggested did not come, and by late 1942 to 1943 the German army had to take stock of their losses and were forced to change the structure of the platoon. Manpower was decreased but compensated by a firepower increase.

The game represents this by the late-war 6-3 GREN counter. This counter sees the firepower of the platoon increase by 1, but the unit is also now more brittle, having a reduced strength of just 2-3 to reflect the lower number of soldiers present. The revised platoon structure also saw the renaming of the infantry soldier into Grenadiers, hence the GREN on the counter.

A typical late-war infantry platoon counter would consist of the following:

  • 1 platoon commander armed with an MP40 and a pistol.
  • 2 messengers armed with rifles.
  • 1 stretcher bearer, armed with a pistol.

The platoon would have three squads each with:

  • 1 squad leader, usually a NCO armed with an MP40.
  • 1 assistant leader armed with an MP40.
  • 1 soldier armed with an MP40.
  • 4 soldiers armed with rifles.
  • 1 machine gunner with an MG42.
  • 1 assistant gunner with a rifle.

The platoon also had two unallocated machine guns although in reality there may have been none available. Also each squad would have been allocated probably two Gewehr 43 semi-automatic rifles, which had a higher rate of fire than the standard Gewehr 98 K bolt-action rifle.

As the war continued into late 1944 and 1945 these structures were often severely depleted, and only offer guidelines as to what a formation on the ground would actually look like.

In the previous article on Panzer Grenadiers we looked at the guns of the Wehrmacht forces. In this instalment I look at the other equipment available to the German infantryman as the war progressed.

The Soviets T34s were a revelation to the German military when the anti-tank guns supplied to the infantry were unable to penetrate the front of these tanks. For the first couple of years of the war on the Eastern Front the only way the infantry could deal with these tanks was close assault using a Teller mine or a bundle of stick grenades.

The Teller Mine

The Teller mine was the standard German anti-tank mine used throughout the war. It had a carrying handle and magnetic underside to enable it to adhere to enemy vehicles; when employed thus it also has a timer mechanism to enable the soldier to get clear before it exploded.

Stick Grenades

The Stielhandgranate was the standard German grenade of the war and an improved version of the grenade used in the First World War. This versatile weapon allowed up to six grenades to be strapped together to form an improvised anti-tank weapon.


Anti-Tank Grenades

At the outbreak of war the German infantry had as their main anti-tank weapon rifle grenades that could be fired from a standard Gewehr 98K rifle by use of a Schiessbecker device. These were relatively ineffective even at the start of the war, but remained in service as there was no alternative available.

One of the strangest anti-tank grenade devices was the Kampfpistole, a modified standard signal pistol that could fire a tiny anti-tank grenade. Needless to say this weapon proved almost entirely useless.

5 cm Granatwerfer 36 (Mortar)

This over-complex and heavy small mortar was not popular with the infantry; its range was too short and effect blast radius small. By 1941 this weapon was out of production. On the eastern front the German infantry made far more use of captured Soviet 5 cm mortars which were lighter and had greater range.

Panzershrek 8.8cm

The capture of American Bazookas in Tunisia in 1943 inspired the Germans to copy its design and produce their own version, officially called the Raketenpanzerbüchse but more commonly known as the Panzershrek. The original design required the user to wear special clothing to protect the user from the rockets exhaust gases, but the later addition of a face shied deemed this unnecessary. A very effective weapon, it relied on the nerve of the infantry man to get close enough for a hit, although a hit usually meant a dead tank!


Another remarkable weapon produced in Germany. It projected a hollow-charge grenade that could penetrate up to 200 mm of armour at a 30-degree angle. Initially introduced in 1943 with a range of just 30 meters, it took a lot of nerve to get in range, but a hit meant a dead tank. The range was eventually increased to 60 meters. Cheap and quick to produce, and requiring a minimal amount of training, this deadly weapon was produced in vast quantities. It was a very effective weapon as the German army moved on to the defensive.

Next up: The Soviet infantry platoon counter from Eastern Front Deluxe and Road to Berlin.

Put these troops into action. Order Kursk: South Flank right here.