One cannot start to understand how the Germans achieved such spectacular victories at the beginning of the war and held out for as long as they did at the end of the war without taking a look at how their forces were organized.

The basic unit of the German armed forces was the Infantry Platoon. This formation evolved during the war in both structure and armament used.

Infantry Platoon 1939German sniper.

1 x Platoon HQ
1 Platoon Commander (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Platoon Leader (Rifle: Kar98k)
2 Runners (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Runner (Sniper Rifle: Scoped Kar98k)
1 Medic (Pistol: Luger P08)

1 x 5cm Mortar team
1 Gunner (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Loader (Rifle: Kar98k)

3 x Infantry Squads
1 Squad Leader NCO (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Assistant Leader NCO (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 LMG gunner (LMG: MG-34 + Pistol: Luger P08)
1 LMG assistant gunner (Pistol: Luger P08)
2 LMG assistant gunners (Rifle: Kar98k)
7 Infantry man (Rifle: Kar98k)

Germany saw the need to increase the manpower of its infantry platoons. This was achieved by sometimes adding a 4th Squad to the unit. Also, the new MP-38 and MP-40 submachine guns started to be distributed to NCO’s however the supply was short.

Infantry Platoon 1940

1 x Platoon HQ
1 Platoon Commander (SMG: MP-38 or MP-40)
1 Platoon Leader (Rifle: Kar98k)
2 Runners (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Runner (Sniper Rifle: Scoped Kar98k)
1 Medic (Pistol: Luger P08)

1 x 5cm Mortar team
1 Gunner (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Loader (Rifle: Kar98k)

3-4 x Infantry Squads
1 Squad Leader NCO (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Assistant Leader NCO (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 LMG gunner (LMG: MG-34 + Pistol: Luger P08)
1 LMG assistant gunner (Pistol: Luger P08)
2 LMG assistant gunners (Rifle: Kar98k)
7 Infantry man (Rifle: Kar98k)

In 1941 the organization changed again. The platoon was deemed too bulky so the squads would be reduced in manpower but their number would be officially increased to 4. Most squad leader NCO’s would have SMG’s by now and would rarely use the Kar98k rifle.

Infantry Platoon 1941

1 x Platoon HQ
1 Platoon Commander (SMG: MP-38 or MP-40)
1 Platoon Leader (Rifle: Kar98k)
2 Runners (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Runner (Sniper Rifle: Scoped Kar98k)
1 Medic (Pistol: Luger P08)

1 x 5cm Mortar team
1 Gunner (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Loader (Rifle: Kar98k)

4 x Infantry Squads
1 Squad Leader NCO (SMG: MP-38 or MP-40, rarely Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Assistant Leader NCO (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 LMG gunner (LMG: MG-34 + Pistol: Luger P08)
1 LMG assistant gunner (Pistol: Luger P08)
1 LMG assistant gunner (Rifle: Kar98k)
6 Infantry man (Rifle: Kar98k)

This would be the last official modification of the German Infantry Platoon. As you can see the number of soldiers dropped yet again however the average amount of firepower was increased. This was due to the fact that the Russians had begun gaining the upper hand in mid to close combat ranges due to their wide spread usage of submachine guns (which is normal for the kind of close combat that occurred in 1942, especially Stalingrad and especially because the Red Army wanted to go on the offensive).

Infantry Platoon 1942

1 x Platoon HQ
1 Platoon Commander (SMG: MP-40)
2 Runners (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Medic (Pistol: Luger P08 or Walther P38)

3 x Infantry Squads
1 Squad Leader NCO (SMG: MP-40)
1 Assistant Leader NCO (SMG: MP-40)
1 LMG gunner (LMG: MG-42 + Pistol: Luger P08 or Walther P38)
1 LMG assistant gunner (Rifle: Kar98k)
1 Infantry man (SMG: MP-40)
4 Infantry man (Rifle: Kar98k or Gewehr 41)

The mortar support was grouped on a company level and was taken away from the platoons. Reports from soldiers show that the German 5cm Light mortar was too heavy and proved to have an insufficient range so it was not widely deployed by men on the field.

To note is also the combat theory that the Germans used when allocating weapons to a platoon. Since 1943 and onwards their forces were severely depleted it was rare to see a platoon up to full strength and with the exact number of weapons allocated.

Rifle: Delivers firepower to long range. Does not require allot of ammo and it is assigned to the most skilled soldiers.

SMG: Short range weapon. Uses allot of ammo and it is assigned to either assault teams or unskilled forces (easier to “spray” the enemy rather than taking aim and firing single shots).

LMG: The main building block of an infantry force. Able to deliver extreme firepower at long range. Is usually assigned to the best soldier of the unit. The whole unit’s tactics focus around this weapon as the LMG would provide either covering fire for advancing troops or be used to directly engage the enemy while the rest of the platoon defend it.

The pictures used are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J24116 / Lüthge / CC-BY-SA
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-216-0417-19 / Dieck / CC-BY-SA
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B00456 / CC-BY-SA

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