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Dragon’s Teeth:
German Pieces, Part Two

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
May 2024

One of the more remarkable stories of the Second World War is the Germany Army’s resurrection, as the battered remnants that staggered across France and Belgium in September 1944 became a full-strength army again by November (just in time for the U.S. Army to kick their asses all over again). During that rebuilding phase, they also fought a major campaign as the Americans burst through the West Wall and drove toward the Rhine River against bitter weather and this revived German Army.

That campaign, between September and November 1944, is the subject of Panzer Grenadier: Dragon’s Teeth. The German Army revived itself and fought on for another six months; the only difference that made was to inflict still more death and destruction. Let’s continue our look at how Dragon’s Teeth represents the German Army.


A German infantry division, throughout the war, fielded one battalion of engineers: three companies of combat engineers, each of three platoons, plus a bridging column. The first company would be motorized and the other two horse-drawn; this doesn’t seem to have been the case in all divisions. A pioneer platoon numbered 52 men, armed like an infantry platoon though they seem not to have received the new-model assault rifles issued in the war’s final months.

German doctrine held that the pioneers, as the German Army called its combat engineers, existed to enable their own army’s mobility, and hinder that of the enemy. That meant enabling river crossings (in addition to the bridging column, all of the engineer platoons carried inflatable assault boats), removing obstacles and storming enemy fortifications when on the offensive, and when defending to build the fortifications and obstacles.

Unlike their lavishly-equipped American counter-parts, German pioneers did not deploy bulldozers and other heavy machinery. They used mostly hand tools, with some small power equipment like chainsaws, and carried barbed wire and other supplies for constructing battlefield obstacles.

Often called Assault Pioneers, they also carried flamethrowers and explosive charges in addition to the usual allotment of infantry weapons. Ideally, their training in infantry tactics and with rifle and machine gun lasted longer than that of regular infantrymen. German generals often deployed them as elite assault troops, but without the support of infantry they could not usually hold their gains by themselves.

Motorcycle Troops

Lacking the heavy industry to provide enough armored carriers for its reconnaissance troops, the German Army became the largest employer of motorcycle-mounted troops in World War II. Motorcycles had the virtue of speed, but not much else, as they could not carry much beyond their passengers and had limited off-road mobility. Special motorcycles with sidecars, like the Zündapp KS 750, carried machine guns and ammunition.

By 1941 the separate motorcycle battalions began to disappear, merged into reconnaissance units, and the motorcycle troops themselves switched to armored halftracks or the new Volkswagen Kübelwagen, a small, unattractive, and not particularly good vehicle that could carry four men. But it was available in huge numbers: starting in February 1940, Volkswagen’s slave-powered “Strength Through Joy” factory complex pumped out over 50,000 of the ugly little contraptions (the American-owned Ambi Budd works in Berlin, which also employed slave labor, made the ugly little bodies for the autos).

By 1944, few German soldiers still rode motorcycles into battle, though they still mounted up to deliver messages and military police traffic cops used them, too. But the designations remained the same whether the unit rode motorcycles or Kübelwagen, so it’s often difficult to discern what vehicles a particular unit deployed. But some motorcycle-mounted troopers appear to have still participated in the Siegfried Line Campaign.

Mortars and Infantry Guns

Frenchman Edgar Brandt unveiled his 81mm mortar in 1927, a design quickly licensed (and sometimes produced without benefit of license) around the world. Germany’s Rheinmetall purchased a license, and German factories churned out more than 75,000 tubes (and 75 million rounds for them), not counting still more thousands seized from France, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and more. Even then, production and seizures never met demand for this uniquely useful weapon.

The German Model 1934 81mm mortar could toss its stylish Art Deco bomb up to 2,400 meters. A crew of three operated the weapon, while seven more men fleshed out the mortar squad – mostly to carry the weapon and its ammunition. It gave the company commander his own artillery support, ready at hand and able to accompany his troops almost anywhere they could march. At times during the war the mortars were held in the battalion’s heavy weapons company, but usually ended up attached to the individual rifle company. It had an enormous rate of fire: in the hands of an experienced crew, it could pour out 16 rounds per minute. It lobbed its rounds at a high trajectory, allowing it to toss them over intervening obstacles like forests, hill and fortifications, but that also meant it had a “dead zone” reaching out about 400 meters from the tube, which its projectiles could not strike.

Most of all, it was cheap and easy to manufacture. It cost 800 Reichsmarks, and just about any metal-working shop could make one. The standard German 105mm howitzer, by comparison, cost 16,000 Reichsmarks (20 times as much) and could only be manufactured by fairly sophisticated heavy industrial plants, using strategic materials. It was, of course, a much more capable weapon of greater range and firepower, but neither could it accompany the infantry directly into battle.

By 1944, at the time of the Siegfried Line Campaign, a German infantry battalion on paper had six 81mm tubes, but in practice many battalions had a dozen (six with the battalion heavy weapons company, and two with each of the rifle companies). That sort of firepower helped to steady the nerves of unsteady infantrymen, but they could not replace the men with rifles when it came to holding and taking ground.

On paper, a German infantry regiment included an infantry-gun company with six light (75mm) guns and two heavy (150mm) guns. As the war went on the 81mm mortar often replaced the 75mm infantry gun, which needed a crew of five and offered a direct-fire capability with more range, and a minimal defense against tanks. It also required something to tow it, either a pair of horses or a light halftrack prime mover. The cannon was much more expensive to manufacture than the mortar, costing 6,700 Reichsmarks; in September 1944 the swap of mortars for infantry guns in two of the light platoons became official, but in some divisions all of the cannon gave way to mortars while in others the little cannon remained in operation through the end of the war.

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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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