Elsenborn Ridge: German Pieces
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
August 2017

Given the German-language title, it's probably fitting that so many Panzer Grenadier games feature German troops in at least a few scenarios, and many have focused on them. They are the bad guys fought by the Soviets, Finns, Poles, British, Australians, New Zealanders, Luxemburgers, Romanians, French, Canadians, Italians, Slovaks, Indians, South Africans, Lithuanians, Austrians and of course Americans.

Elsenborn Ridge continues this tradition; as once again American troops are called on to smite three flavors of Nazis: German regular army, German Air Force paratroopers, and German Waffen SS. This diverse group of Germans brings a broad array of tanks, troops and weapons to the battlefield, many of which have appeared in previous Panzer Grenadier titles.

We looked at the game's American order of battle in an earlier installment; today we have a look at what the three German armies have to offer.

Foot Soldiers


The backbone of any army is its infantry, and each of the three German armies has its own. The regular army's Grenadier platoon replaced the former organization in 1943. This was a smaller unit than the previous infantry platoon, and on paper at least a greater issue of automatic weapons made up for the lack of manpower. More soldiers now carried semi-automatic Gewehr 43 rifles in place of the tried-and-true Mauser 98K bolt action rifle, which increased the platoon's firepower — but the bolt-action weapon would remain in service until the very end of the war.

As in all Panzer Grenadier games, the GREN piece represents a platoon at "more or less full strength" and the reverse side at something less than that. At this scale, units rarely if ever went into battle with the exact numbers of soldiers and weapons depicted on the Table of Organization and Equipment. The GREN platoon loses more strength when reduced than most similar units in the game series, thanks to its relative lack of manpower.

The German Air Force controlled airborne units, and thanks to its political influence secured the best weapons for them. The parachute rifle company and its constituent platoons were larger than their regular army equivalents, and its rifle squads had two light machine guns rather than one in Army units — at least on paper. The paratroopers also had a higher priority for the new Stg44 assault rifles. Their firepower may be underrated in the game.

Like the Air Force, the Waffen SS maintained a slightly larger platoon organization than the Army, with a higher proportion of new, modern small arms like the StG 44 assault rifle. The divisions employed in the Ardennes were favored formations, well-supplied with the latest weapons.

The machine gun platoons of the infantry battalion's heavy company had the same weapon as the rifle squads — MG34 or the very effective MG42 — but usually with a tripod, extra barrels and more available ammunition. Those extra barrels were the key to its firepower: they could be exchanged quickly once they overheated. The enormous rate of fire also consumed huge quantities of ammunition which had to be carried into battle, so while the gun could be operated by one man in the light machine gun role, each gun in the machine gun platoon was served by six.


Unlike the divisions attacking in the southern "shoulder" of the offensive, shown in our Battle of the Bulge game, those of Elsenborn Ridge include Royal Tiger tanks. We've examined these in more detail elsewhere. They appear in SS colors in Elsenborn Ridge, representing the 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion attached to the 1st SS Panzer Division.

Both the Army and the SS field the best all-round German tank design, the PanzerKampfwagen V Panther. Each service gets a good number of them, and the tank has already appeared in several games (though we've altered the name from Pz V to Panther just because we like it better). The Panther was a very effective war machine, with a long-barreled 75mm gun, good protection and reasonable speed.

It was, however, expensive to build and all the panzer divisions relied on the tried-and-true Panzer IV. We've covered this machine elsewhere and despite lacking an animal moniker it was easily Germany's most important tank.

Assault Guns


While other nations built similar vehicles, none of them relied on the assault gun (a turretless tank) to the same extent as Germany. These came in two basic types: the tank destroyer, caryring a high-velocity anti-tank gun and intended to combat enemy armor, and the assault gun, often carrying a larger but lower-velocity weapon and intended to support infantry with front-line artillery support. To emphasize this role, assault guns were not part of the panzer arm, but administered by the artillery instead.

Jason Rahman has looked at German tank destroyers in an earlier installment. The Jagdpanther, Jagdpanzer IV and Hetzer all appear in Elsenborn Ridge, all in Army colors.

There are also two flavors of assault gun: the Sturmgeschutz III and IV. The StuG III served throughout the war, a simple but very effective matching of a Panzer III hull and 75mm gun, with the gun mounted in the hull. The StuG IV was a very similar vehicle built on a Panzer IV hull, produced as an expedient when Allied bombing interrupted production of the Panzer III chassis and kept in production thanks to its excellent fighting qualities.

In response to many requests, we also have several armed half-tracks, unique vehicles that supported German recon units. the SPW 251/21 sports a triple-barreled 20mm anti-aircraft gun, while the SPW 251/22 has a 75mm anti-tank gun. They appear in both Army and SS colors.

Support Weapons


All three services carry the effective 81mm mortar, a weapon based on the French Brandt design and used by almost every combatant in World War II outside the British Commonwealth. By 1944 many battalions also had — at least on paper — a heavy 120mm mortar section, though in Elsenborn Ridge only the SS has this weapon. The Army also has the 75mm infantry gun, a type of weapon issued by many armies but much more common among the German forces.

With the Allies enjoying a massive advantage in numbers of tanks, the Germans responded by building huge numbers of anti-tank guns — and still never had enough. The 50mm gun is still present in some Army units in 1944, but most of the guns in the game are the very effective 75mm guns in several models. There's also the awesome 88mm gun, though as the Germans are usually on the attack in Elsenborn's scenarios this weapon does not make many appearances.

The Ardennes offensive was heralded by salvoes from the fearsome rocket launcher known as the Nebelwerfer. At first these were all going to be represented by off-board artillery, but purely at the instigation of super fan Jay Townsend, the model 1941 Nebelwerfer is here as well.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.