Nearly everyone who does World War Two wargaming wants to build a force of Germans. This is easily understood, given that Germans fought all the way through the war on many fronts against just about everybody else. This page should help you build a force of German infantry, up to company level. It is worth reading my page on panzergrenadiers as well, because much of the detail on that is pertinent to ordinary infantry.
The first thing that must be understood about all orders of battle, is that they varied an awful lot. What a unit was meant to have and what it actually had were often very different things, and seldom was the difference greater than with German late war units. When things are going badly, you use whatever you have.
The next thing to understand is that unit organisations changed quite a bit over time. On this page I shall try to give you a few notions of these changes. Last, one has to compromise a lot when one is translating orders of battle for wargaming purposes. Units consisted of far more men than actually fired a shot at the front. Units had cooks, horse handlers, medics, messengers, and many men who were kept in reserve. Official organisations had many men in the HQ parts of platoons and companies, armed with rifles, who had no clear battlefield role that we might simulate during a game. These were often the men who would be kept in reserve, or who would have already been called upon to replace losses at the front. Consequently, wargamers, and I am no exception, often leave these men out or cut their numbers down quite a bit.
Last in this preamble before I start, I'll say that sources clash quite a bit, and that for these lists I am relying not on any one source, but on a mixture of a few, notably The Gamer's Guide to WWII Small Unit Organisations and TO&Es by Bill Rutherford, and lists compiled by the folks of the Wargames Research Group.
The basic unit of German infantry was the section. This had one NCO in charge of it, who might be armed with an MP38 or MP40 (later version, issued in 1940) submachinegun (often referred to as a "Schmeisser" even though this gun designer had no hand in its design). I use SMG figures for almost all my NCOs, because it is one way of making them easy to spot on the table. In fact they often used ordinary rifles instead. The MP40 was designed to look ultra-modern and fearsome. It was a decent submachinegun, but often Germans preferred to use captured ones, taken from Russians, Italians, or British. Otto Skorzeny, the famous German commando who rescued Mussolini from a mountain retreat, much preferred the British sten gun to the MP40, and tried to persuade the German army to adopt it as standard. This might surprise those who hated the sten, or "plumber's nightmare".
A section had two main elements. One was the light machinegun group, and the other was a team of riflemen. The Germans used a general purpose machine gun (GPMG), often called a "Spandau" (after the location of the factory that made World War I machine guns), but more properly the MG34 or its later version the MG42. The two guns were pretty similar in effect and use, but the later version was quicker and cheaper to make. The machinegun was what gave the section its firepower, and when slugging it out at range with the enemy, the riflemen would be subservient to the machinegun. They would protect it, and keep it supplied with ammunition. German machineguns had a very high rate of fire, and used up ammunition very rapidly indeed. British troops fighting against Germans reported that the Germans hardly ever fired their rifles, and that the fire from them came in the form of intense bursts from the machineguns. These bursts were not very accurate, but had an excellent suppressing effect, since they scattered many bullets over a wide area very quickly. If an enemy unit got surprised in the open by German machinegun fire, the result was usually very bloody, as the belt-fed machinegun could sustain many deadly bursts of fire. One problem with the weapon was that it tended to overheat very rapidly, and often needed to have its barrel changed during a battle. The gunner carried a pistol for his own protection, and his assistant had a rifle.
The riflemen used the Karabiner 98 kurtz (Kar.98k), which was a shortened version of the German WW rifle. This old design of bolt-action rifle which was very compact and effective. It held five rounds only. Its recoil was directly backward, which didn't upset the aim much, and its design of bolt is the ancestor of most bolt-action rifles today. Other rifles were issued, for instance entire divisions of Germans used British rifles captured at Dunkirk, but this was the standard. It had a metal-lined hole through its butt, which I guess was used for locking the rifle to a rack in an armoury.
The riflemen operated with the machinegun crew. They moved around the battlefield with it, and would participate in close assaults, going in with grenades and bayonets. The standard grenade was a stick-grenade, Steilgranate 24, also known as a "potato masher". It was a duel-purpose grenade. It had a removable steel sleeve which sat around the head. For offensive use it could be thrown without the sleeve, and would have blast effect only, and for defensive use the metal sleeve could be added to the head to give it some shrapnel effect. An infantryman might typically have two such grenades, often carried tucked into a boot or belt. Stick grenades could not be thrown further than other types, and were difficult to get through narrow openings like pillbox slots, but did not bounce and roll like other grenades could.
An early war German section. The riflemen on the left (by Revell)wear the classic German infantry uniform similar to the type you see in the movies. Film audiences are used to the convention that Germans wear grey. In fact, most of the uniform was not grey, and in the later part of the war, very little was grey. See my modelling section for a painting guide to German infantry.
In the centre is the section commander, and on the right is a base with an MG team on it, and one accompanying rifleman. A section would have 6-10 men in it. The variable number would be the number of riflemen. The Germans relied very heavily on their machineguns, and didn't ever want to fight without them. If they lost the machinegun for whatever reason, they often fell back or surrendered. Here you see the gun being fired with the gunner's assistant holding the bipod of the weapon, the barrel of which rests on his shoulder. The noise must have been deafening for the assistant. How often this firing posture was used is difficult to say, but Germans are often portrayed using them this way, and it is a wargame convenience because it makes the MGs very easy to spot.
The base with the MG on it has three men by SHQ wearing the Zeltbahn or shelter quarter. Every man had one of these. Four put together made a tent, and each one could be worn as a poncho for protection from rain and for camouflage. These were used throughout the war and so give figures a multi-purpose look.
Here we see a section from the later part of the war. The rifleman on the left are the same figures you saw before. In reality, they might be wearing late war uniforms by this time, but I only painted up one lot of riflemen for early and late war games, and this saved me a lot of painting. The base with the MG team on it is in late war uniform, and the MG is the MG42 (issued in 1942). On the right, the section's NCO also sports late war uniform.
The section is mostly the same, but in new clothes. The men might have different grenades, but this is unlikely to bother us in a wargame, and plenty of stick grenades were still being used. The man on the right on the MG base has a semi-automatic rifle (the Gewehr 41). Often the men would have panzerfaust single-shot anti-tank rockets as well. This is the biggest difference in effectiveness between an early and late war section. These devices had the power to knock out heavy tanks, but only at ranges of thirty yards or so. A section might carry quite a few of these. I usually allow two per base of combat troops. In 1941 the Germans added rifle-grenadiers to most of their sections as well. They were asking their men to carry a lot of weight.
Each platoon had three sections, and each platoon had a commander. Here on the left we see a platoon commander. Early in the war he might have a pistol or submachinegun. Later on he would probably have an SMG. Each company had three platoons. The first of these would be led by an officer, and the other two would probably be led by a senior NCO. Wargame convention, though, allows us to use more officers than in reality. It makes the figures easier to differentiate on the table, and it gives us something to do with all the officer figures that come in boxes of plastic figures. This officer is an Airfix one (with his pistol replaced with a more substantial one).
The section bases you saw above all had cat litter stones on them. These marked them as parts of the same section. These bases have stones, foam rubber shrubs, and red lichen bushes on them, marking these figures as being in the HQ section of the platoon with the sections with these three textures on their bases.
The officer has with him his aides. These would be NCOs, runners, messengers, and whomever else he needed with him to help him control his platoon. Typically they would be armed with rifles, but an NCO might have an SMG. Many sources list the platoon HQ section as having an LMG team in it. I do not know why they do this, nor what the evidence for this is, nor what the MG might have been there for. If they did have MGs, my guess is that the main purpose was to replace or back up one of the fighting section MGs. Since most units in the field were under-strength, it is reasonable to imagine that even if they did have an extra MG team in theory, in practice this had usually replaced losses in the sections. I have not put MG teams in my platoon HQs. Some sources say that the HQ section had an LMG team or a 50mm mortar team.
The Germans used 50mm mortars. These are light mortars, sometimes known as "grenade launchers". The Germans designed a very sophisticated and accurate light mortar, that was so well-made and complicated, that it took a while to set up, and weighed a ton (well, some 32 pounds). In the early part of the war, one 50mm mortar, typically with two crewmen, would be in the HQ section of a platoon, much like the British organisation. In 1941 things were reorganised, and the three light mortars were grouped together in the support platoon of the company, to give them a greater combined effect. Used this way, they were allotted a forward observer, and they would fire indirectly, which is a major difference. This means that the only man in a position to see the target would be the observer, and he would communicate what he saw to the mortars (perhaps by radio, but more often by field cable telephone), which would be out of sight further back. By 1943 this arrangement was done away with and the 50mm mortar fell out of use. Instead, infantry units were supported by mortar platoons with 81mm mortars (perhaps one section of two 81mm mortars per infantry company, if they were lucky).
On the left, you see two SHQ, crewmen (designed for 81mm mortars); in the middle, an Esci radio operator converted to a light mortar crewman (a very useful figure, that), and crouching by him with his fingers in his ears is the LMG assistant from the Revell Panzergrenadiers box; on the right are two Esci German infantry figures converted (one is the mortar loader with his arms and legs bent with a hot pin, and the other is the prone rifleman with his rifle cut away) for the role. All the mortars are scratch-built from plastic card and plastic rod.
Early war platoons sometimes had an anti-tank rifle team in the HQ section. This was a very powerful bolt-action rifle, capable of piercing the armour of many early war light tanks. Later in the war, these weapons were abandoned in favour of panzerschrecks which were rocket-power copies of the American bazooka. How exactly these AT rifles were allotted varies a lot between sources. Some sources say that each platoon had one in its HQ section. Others don't mention ATRs at all, while others have three ATR rifle teams all in the company support platoon, but this does not necessarily mean that they fought all together in one place. They might have been attached out to the various platoons by the company commander. Figures shown by FAA - a bit chunky and child-like in proportion for my taste, but you can't get plastic figures of German AT riflemen.
Each company had three platoons, and a company commander. The company commander would often have his own car and driver, but these were not for front-line use. Indeed, even platoon commanders might have cars. They would also have an NCO, and perhaps a few riflemen as aides. There would also be a deputy company commander (who, according to some lists was an NCO), who would have his aides as well, and typically among these would be the company's main radio operator.
Here we see a base of company commander's aides. On the left are two Revell Afrika Korps figures, painted up as HQ riflemen, with their caps carved into the style of the normal (non-tropical) cap. In the middle stands an Esci NCO with teller mine. On the right is a Hasegawa officer, pointing something out.
Here we see the figures we saw earlier in the early war and late war sections combined to make a platoon at the scale that the Crossfire rules recommend. At this scale, one figure does not represent one man. Instead, one base represents a section, so here we see three fighting sections, plus an officer base, representing the entire platoon. I still sometimes play the game at this scale, as it suits some scenarios, but I prefer one figure to equal (roughly) one man.
Now to attempt a clarifying summary. What a company might have in support from SFMG teams, mortars, and AT platoons varied enormously. Below I list what might be integral to a company. Especially if it had no SFMGs or mortars of its own, it might have attached to it parts or all of machine gun platoons and mortar and anti-tank platoons from the battalion's resources. Typically, a battalion at full strength had three companies of infantry, and perhaps if lucky up to one AT platoon (perhaps 3 or 4 AT guns), one mortar platoon (six 81mm mortars or later war sometimes four 120mm mortars), and a machine gun platoon (typically 3-4 MG teams). Given that this varied so much, a wargamer at company level is granted a lot of licence in varying it.
German Infantry Company
Company Command Platoon
Company commander, armed with pistol (or perhaps SMG esp. 1941+)
His aides, mostly with rifles.
Deputy commander, possibly an NCO.
His aides, usually including radio operator.
Fighting Platoons (three of these)
Platoon Command Section
Platoon commander (officer in first, NCO in second and third), usually with SMG/pistol.
His aides, mainly with rifles.
Fighting Sections (three per platoon)
Section commander, NCO usually armed with SMG.
LMG team with MG34 or (later war) MG42, two man crew.
Riflemen, typically 4-6 of them. From 1941 onwards, some would have rifle-grenades.
1943-45: Many riflemen also carried panzerfausts.
1939-1942: Three 50mm mortars, either one per platoon HQ section, or all three together in the company support platoon.
1939-42: Three anti-tank rifles, either one per platoon HQ section or all three together in the company HQ platoon.
1943-45: Replace anti-tank rifles with panzerschrecks
Sometimes the company had its own integral support platoon, with a platoon commander, plus perhaps three aides, plus two or three SFMG (sustained fire machine guns - MG34 or MG42 on a tripod with lots of ammo, all transported on carts) teams, and supported by ammunition-carrying men with rifles. My sources clash horribly about this so I cannot say how common this was.
Early in the war, the support platoon might have the company's three 50mm mortars in it, with a forward observer team (typically two men). Late in the war, it might have two 81mm mortars and FO team.