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Dragon’s Teeth:
German Pieces, Part One

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
April 2024

By the autumn of 1944, much of the German Army has been effectively destroyed, between the Western Allies’ landings in Normandy and the drive across France and Belgium that followed, and the Soviet Operation Bagration and subsequent offensives in Poland and Romania. It seemed unlikely that the Germans could hold on either front.

And then, something surprising happened. German factories had reached their peak production, and churned out new weapons and vehicles. The Army bureaucracy lurched into a higher gear, combing out surplus personnel from its own rear areas, taking in extra manpower from the Navy and Air Force, and drafting younger and older recruits. The lines stabilized, in Poland and along the pre-war German border. And it’s the latter campaign that’s the theme of Panzer Grenadier: Dragon’s Teeth.

The German infantry had started to receive new weapons, but still fielded some of the same arms that conquered Poland and France. It’s an eclectic mix, so let’s start a look at the German troops and weapons of Dragon’s Teeth:

Foot Soldiers

The panzers got the headlines, but the infantry remained the backbone of the German Army. The standard infantry platoon had evolved throughout the war, and by 1944 the Germans had been forced into the same solution they had grasped in 1918. Increased allotments of automatic weapons would balance out the shortages of front-line manpower.

The Siegfried Line campaign caught the German infantry in the midst of a thorough reorganization at every level. On paper, the infantry platoon should have had three squads, each of nine men, and a headquarters element with six men for a total of 33 (a considerable reduction from the previous standard of four squads and 49 men). Most of the men carried the Mauser 98k bolt-action rifle, with some toting the Gewehr 43, the semi-automatic version. The latter weapon was sprinkled across the German divisions rather than issued to completely re-arm entire units. The squad leader and sometimes a second man had a submachine gun, and two men operated a light machine gun.

Each rifle company had three rifle platoons and a heavy weapons section; under earlier tables of organization this had two 81mm mortars, and in late 1943 these swapped out for two heavy machine guns from the battalion’s heavy weapons company. In practice some companies did not switch, or retained both, with the weapons company also keeping both the machine guns and the mortars.

A new table of organization appeared in September 1944, one built around the new wonder weapon, the new Sturmgewehr 44, the progenitor of the modern assault rifle. Units fighting on the Eastern Front had priority for the new rifle, and it only appeared late in the Siegfried Line campaign, in the hands of inexperienced People’s Grenadier units. Most of the infantry that fought in the campaign did so under the old organization.

Under the theoretical new organization, the assault rifle would arm two of the three squads in two of the rifle company’s three platoons. The third squad, and all three squads of the third platoon, would retain the Mauser 98k bolt-action rifle or the Gewehr 43 semi-automatic model and a light machine-gun to provide a base of fire (the assault squads had no light machine gun). Thus, of the company’s nine squads, four would have assault rifles and five would have bolt-action rifles.

Adding to the supply nightmare this engendered, the shiny new assault rifle and the Mausers (whether bolt-action or semi-automatic) used different ammunition – the same 7.92mm caliber, but a different length. And they were mixed within the same platoons. Remember that Star Trek episode, where Spock agreed with the crazy history professor that Nazi Germany was the “most efficient state . . . Earth ever knew”? Yeah, history lessons weren’t that great on Planet Vulcan.

The assault squads had only their assault rifles, and lacked a squad automatic weapon, something even modern armies find necessary for fire-and-movement tactics. The Sturmgewehr was no replacement for a true machine gun, as it was limited to two- and three-round bursts and had a relatively short range (though impressive accuracy).

But where the assault rifle was a disappointing weapon, the new MG42 machine gun was outstanding with an enormous rate of fire. It was simple to produce, easy to operate and used the same cartridge as the Mauser rifle. It was by far the most effective machine gun of World War II, and the best infantry weapon the Germans possessed, which explains why those efficient Nazis tried to reduce its numbers in their front-line organization. Unfortunately, that change came too late for the Americans fighting in the Siegfried Line campaign.

In Panzer Grenadier games, including Dragon’s Teeth, we keep things simple: there’s only one type of rifle platoon in Dragon’s Teeth and other late-war games, labelled GREN. Rifle platoons using the earlier organization are labeled INF. The GREN platoons have more firepower (more automatic weapons) but also a lower strength when reduced (fewer men to man those weapons).

Heavy Weapons

The MG42 never fully replaced the earlier MG34, itself a very good weapon. The older organization concentrated three heavy machine-gun platoons in a heavy weapons company controlled by the battalion headquarters, which could then parcel them out to the rifle companies. The later organization put some of the machine guns directly under company control, retaining one platoon with the heavy weapons company. Veteran units (those that had not been destroyed and rebuilt) usually had both: a machine-gun section or platoon attached to each rifle company, and three more platoons under the heavy weapons company. Favored units like the Grossdeutschland and Panzer Lehr divisions (neither of which fought in the Siegfried Line campaign) had this front-line practice formally inscribed in their organization.

While the new tables of organization de-emphasized the machine gun in favor of the assault rifle, that didn’t filter down to the front lines. Those officers who’d fought in the trenches in 1918 well understood the value of the machine gun on the defensive. As men became casualties, they would shift responsibilities to keep the machine gun firing. Only when the machine guns had been destroyed, or all the men in the platoon or company were wounded, dead or fled, did they cease firing.

The machine-gin platoon operated four heavy machine guns, the same MG42 or MG34 used as a squad light machine gun, but mounted on a tripod with plenty of extra barrels and ammunition to support sustained firing. As they fired the same ammunition, some platoons mixed the two models of machine gun; in Panzer Grenadier games, there’s only one type of German Army machine gun platoon, representing various combinations of MG34 and MG42 weapons.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published an unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three children; he misses his dog, Leopold.

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