THE German Army has several tasks which it must fulfill simultaneously. It must resist the Anglo-American invasion. It must oppose the Russians in the east. It must keep the satellite states in line and control the captive peoples of occupied Europe. What are its capacities for dealing with these tasks? An attempt will be made here to estimate the strength and quality of the forces at the disposition of the German High Command and to indicate their distribution as the invasion begins.


The best estimate is in terms of divisions. The division is the basic fighting team in all armies, and its size and fire power are roughly comparable so far as nominal establishments are concerned. True, there are various types of divisions -- infantry divisions, armored divisions, mountain divisions, etc. But in estimating the fighting power of a large army, we may assume for purposes of comparison that the proportion of the various types is properly adjusted to the needs of the army. If we say that such-and-such an army has 100 divisions of all types, and that another army has 200 divisions, we have a basis for comparison which suggests that the second army is twice as strong in actual combat power as the first, other factors being equal. Some of the "other factors" will be further analyzed after we have examined the divisional strength of the German Army.

As of May 15, 1944, the German Army possessed about 320 divisions of all types. Of these, about 50 were "panzer" or "panzer grenadier" divisions; about 200 were "offensive" infantry divisions; and about 70 were "defensive" infantry divisions. The panzer division is an armored division, in which the basic element is the tank, though it includes infantry in armored troop-carriers, armored artillery, engineers and services. Each panzer division at full strength now has about 15,000 officers and men, with about 200 tanks (as compared with 400 at the beginning of the war). A panzer grenadier division is a motorized infantry division, plus a detachment of about 20 tanks. By the term motorized is meant a division in which motor transport is provided to move the entire division. The basic element of the panzer grenadier division is the same as that of the ordinary infantry division -- the foot soldier. The average strength of panzer grenadier divisions may be taken as from 12,000 to 15,000 officers and men. The best types of recruits are used for the panzer and panzer grenadier divisions.

The bulk of the German Army is made up of infantry divisions. These vary in quality. In general, they are divided into two types which may be described as offensive divisions and defensive divisions. The offensive infantry division has enough rifle strength for a sustained offensive mission of normal type, and enough transport to enable it to move. The defensive infantry division is deficient (to a greater or less degree) in rifle strength, and is lacking in transport. Some divisions of the latter type have no transport at all and can be used only to hold fixed positions.

At the beginning of the war, the German infantry division had three regiments (9 battalions) of infantry, and two regiments (15 batteries) of field artillery, with engineers, services, and a reconnaissance unit. The majority of infantry divisions of the offensive type still have three infantry regiments, but the regiments have been reduced to two battalions each. The artillery component has not usually been reduced. Most German field artillery belonging to infantry divisions is still horse-drawn. It is the panzer and panzer grenadier divisions which have the motorized and self-propelled guns of which so much is heard, except when these are attached to infantry divisions for special missions. An offensive infantry division at full strength averages about 12,000 officers and men, as compared with 16,000 to 20,000 at the beginning of the war.

The defensive type of infantry division has fewer rifle companies in its battalions, or sometimes has machine-gun or mortar companies substituted for rifle companies. It usually has its full artillery component, but is likely to be deficient in transport. The average strength of these divisions may be estimated at from 8,000 to 10,000. In fire power they are not greatly inferior to the offensive divisions. What they lack is sustained striking power -- which depends on a sufficient number of riflemen -- and in many cases, mobility -- which depends on sufficient transport.

In addition to the divisions, all armies have other units known as corps troops, army troops and general headquarters troops. These consist of special types of artillery (medium and heavy guns and howitzers, pack artillery, antiaircraft, etc.), engineer troops, signal troops, military police, medical and transport units and other specialized forces which are at the disposal of higher commanders and may be attached to divisions or other combat forces when necessary. For estimating an army at full strength (one, that is, which has not found it necessary to "scrape the bottom of the manpower barrel"), a good though rough rule-of-thumb is to estimate that the troops thus at the disposal of the higher commanders, plus the forces necessary to guard and operate the line of communications, will be about equal in strength to the divisional strength. Thus if we were to say that the United States Army today has 100 divisions of all types, and that the average strength of each division is 15,000, we ought to estimate the total strength in ground troops not at 1,500,000 but at 3,000,000. Behind these will be the replacement elements (recruits in training and men undergoing special courses of instruction) and the administrative and supply forces of the army in the home sector. The first are necessary to replace losses, the second to keep the army supplied with all it needs.

When we come to examine the German Army, however, we find first of all that we must cut the estimate of corps, army and GHQ troops to about 50 percent of the divisional strength. The German Army can no longer afford luxuries. It is down to rock bottom, and every special-type unit that is not absolutely necessary has been eliminated. As for its replacement and supply elements, we shall come to those a little later.

For the present, then, we may estimate the total manpower in the German Army as follows:

50 "panzer" and "panzer grenadier" divisions at 15,000 each 750,000
200 infantry divisions ("offensive" type) at 12,000 each 2,400,000
70 infantry divisions ("defensive" type) at 10,000 each 700,000
Less 15 percent average under-strength for about 200 divisions on
the Russian front (say 1,800 each) 360,000
           Total manpower in divisions 3,490,000
Corps, Army and GHQ troops (50 percent of divisional strength) 1,745,000
           Total manpower of German Army 5,235,000

Let us leave these calculations for a moment and examine the German manpower situation on a somewhat broader basis.


Another rule-of-thumb which has proven itself sound ever since the railway made possible the mobilization of the great national armies of today is that a nation can put under arms a force equal to about 10 percent of its total population. If it exceeds this it weakens itself on the industrial, agricultural and transportation fronts more than it strengthens itself by the additional fighting power acquired.

The present population of Germany, including Austria and the Sudetenland, is about 80,000,000. This would give a mobilizable fighting strength of about 8,000,000 at any given time, assuming of course that young men keep coming in every year, and that older men keep going out by reason of developing defects, etc., in about the same proportion. From this total, we must deduct Germany's war losses, which (on the experience of earlier wars) will be almost altogether in the younger and tougher age-groups. The older men do not take so many chances nor are so many of them employed in front-line units.

As to war losses, there is considerable difference of opinion. Perhaps as good an estimate as any is that of the Czechoslovak chief of military intelligence, Colonel Moravec, who estimates the total German casualties (in killed, wounded and prisoners) at about 6,000,000. Taking normal figures of expectancy, as used in our own Army, we find that about 20 percent of these may be considered as killed in action. Probably about 500,000 Germans have been taken prisoner (chiefly at Stalingrad and in Tunisia, plus smaller captures in Russia, Sicily and Italy). This leaves 4,300,000 wounded. Of these, a good many will have recovered and rejoined the Army. Very high claims are made by our own medical services as to such recoveries, because of modern methods of evacuation and treatment. To grant the Germans every possible advantage, let us assume that only 20 percent of the wounded have been permanently disabled and that the rest are fit at least for limited service in clerical or hospital duties.

We may then tabulate the permanent German war losses thus:

Killed in action 1,200,000
Prisoners 500,000
Permanently disabled 860,000
Total permanent German losses 2,560,000

Deducting this from the figure of 8,000,000 normally available fighting men, we find that something like 5,440,000 remain available for duty. This at first sight seems to compare well with the figure of 5,235,000 at which we had arrived for the strength of the German Army; but actually it makes no allowance for the Navy and Air Force, which together total about 1,500,000 officers and men.

However, we must apply a further adjustment to the total army figure. Not all the soldiers in the German Army are Germans -- not by any means. Time and again, Allied front-line troops report the capture of Poles, Czechs, Alsatians, Danes, Slovenes, Ukrainians and men of other nationalities wearing German uniforms. In many cases these men have deserted to the Allied side when opportunity offered, or have thrown down their arms. Instances of German troops firing on deserters, or even on groups of prisoners already surrendered, may be explained by this circumstance. The Germans still keep a solid core of good tough German soldiers in each division, as far as they can; but in the supply and medical services, the transport columns, and even in some cases in lesser jobs in combat units, non-Germans now are used to fill in so as to release Germans for more crucial tasks. There are, of course, no exact statistics regarding the extent to which the German Army has been infiltrated by foreigners in this fashion. Probably the defensive divisions contain a higher proportion of them than the others. If we estimate at 25 percent the total of non-German men throughout the German Army we probably shall not be far wrong. The figures would then work out like this:

Total for German Army 5,235,000
Less 25 percent non-Germans 1,308,750
German soldiers 3,926,250
Plus Navy and Air Force (almost all Germans) 1,500,000
Total German fighting manpower 5,426,250

This compares almost exactly with the estimate based on Germany's mobilizable fighting strength.

There is still another angle from which we may approach the question of Germany's fighting manpower. In 1939, the last time when official statistics were published, there were in Germany about 18,000,000 males of fighting age (that is, 18 to 48 inclusive). War losses aside, this figure probably is accurate for 1944. At any one time, according to reasonably reliable estimates, we may assume that 8,000,000 men in these age-groups are deferred or barred from military service by reason of being government or party officials, indispensable industrial or agricultural workers, political prisoners, or because of physical defects. The estimate as to the last class is probably too low. Further deductions must be made for men assigned to the air-raid precaution services, firefighting and sanitary duties, and so forth, and to the air-raid spotting system; for the Germans (not the foreigners) in the Todt organization and other labor services; and for the police (not including the armed SS formations which can serve with the Army). The total of these comes to just under 2,000,000. An estimate made in this fashion leads us right back to the same figure of 8,000,000 mobilizable fighting men reached by the other methods.

One more estimate may be added, which tends to confirm the general accuracy of the results already reached. A United Press dispatch from Washington under date of May 20 gave it as the opinion of American and British military experts there that Germany "has about 3,000,000 front-line soldiers with which to meet the forthcoming Allied attacks from east, west, north or south." The statement continues: "This total does not include millions of supply, over-age and other troops of doubtful combat value, but . . . Germany's first-class, experienced fighting personnel."

Referring to the figures given in the first table above, the reader will note that the total number of German soldiers in the German Army is put at 3,926,250. Even after we eliminate the non-Germans in the supply and other services it is reasonable to suppose that about 25 percent of these Germans will be performing non-combat duties. Many of them will occupy supervisory positions in the supply and transport organizations, or on the lines of communication; others will be required for headquarters staffs, as clerks, orderlies and specialists -- jobs which cannot be entrusted to non-Germans; still others will be "limited service" men who have returned to the army after being wounded or ill. The estimate of 3,000,000 "first class, experienced fighting personnel" seems to fit in pretty well with the figures we have been using. This is not, of course, to say that the other personnel are negligible. No army can fight unless its various services are efficiently manned. Ammunition and food must get up to the troops on time, weapons and motor transport must be repaired and serviced; animals must be cared for; the communications system and the administrative system must function; the sick and wounded must be evacuated and must be taken care of. Even in combat, some non-Germans will fight, and will kill Allied soldiers, as long as one German is behind each group of them with a machine-pistol in his hand.

These conclusions lead us to one further conclusion, and that is that the German Army has no replacement reserve. It does not even seem possible that enough men can be undergoing special training courses to keep up the Army's technical efficiency. Actually, there are probably a good many such courses in operation, but the men undergoing them are not replaced in their units; they represent a net drain on strength -- and an important one, since the men chosen for special training are naturally men who have shown considerable aptitude in their organizations.

As to the replacement reserve, this can be maintained only by constantly combing over the industrial and agricultural pools of manpower, the air-raid services, police and so forth, by constantly lowering the physical standards, and by bringing in young men at an increasingly early age. Some replacement reserve is very likely kept up by these methods, the bulk of it probably formed by the young men who reach the age of 18 this year: some 450,000 of whom will pass the physical tests. But since there are constant calls for replacements from every unit of the army, and since the air force and navy must be taken care of, and since the SS Guards cannot be neglected lest the régime collapse for lack of internal support, this reserve cannot be considered as being at all adequate, and will be swallowed up in the first few weeks of serious two-front fighting.


The German strategic plan for 1944 was determined and the distribution of men made after balancing all risks and advantages.

The Germans regarded the eastern, or Russian front, as holding their gravest risk. They regarded the chance of throwing the western invasion back into the sea as presenting their greatest opportunity. They distributed their army accordingly. Of 320 divisions of all types, almost 200 were assigned to the Russian front and 60 to France and the Low Countries. These remain the two main groupings. There is not likely to be any shift in them except under the pressure of events, for the reason that the Germans have obviously already cut their strength on the Russian front to the lowest figure they dare, while they appear to think that if 60 divisions cannot stop the western Allies from getting a lodgment on the Continent, they themselves will still, on that side, have the option of retiring to shorter lines -- the old Hindenburg Line from Switzerland to the sea, or even the Siegfried Line defending the western frontier of Germany proper.

In detail, the German divisions were assigned approximately as follows:

Russian front (including 7 in Finland) 195
France, Belgium and the Netherlands 60
Italy 25
Hungary, Jugoslavia and Albania 15
Greece, Crete and the Aegean Islands 10
Norway 10
Denmark 5
Total number of divisions 320

If we divide the foregoing by types, we find that of the 50 panzer and panzer grenadier divisions, 8 to 10 were assigned to Italy, possibly as many as 15 to France and the Low Countries, 1 or 2 to Norway, and the remainder to the Russian front or the Balkans. The divisions in France and the Low Countries probably include as many as 30 of the defensive type infantry divisions, which are assigned to fixed defense areas and can be moved only with difficulty. The total number of divisions assigned to the front-line defense in France and the Low Countries was about 40, with 20 divisions constituting the mobile reserve. Of the total of 25 divisions assigned to Italy, at least five were destroyed in the fighting for Rome.

The German Army is divided into eight army groups, each consisting of two or more armies. As with us, each army includes two or more corps, and each corps two or more divisions. The army groups and their commanders are reported as follows:

North Russia, Colonel General Lindemann } 97
Central Russia, Field Marshal Busch
South Russia, Field Marshal von Modl } 98
Rumania, Colonel General Schorner
Balkans, Field Marshal von Weichs 25
Italy, Field Marshal von Kesselring 25
France and Low Countries, Field Marshal von Rundstedt 60
Norway and Denmark, Field Marshal von Falkenhorst 15
         Total 320

It should be noted that these eight army groups include all the divisions of the German Army. Thus, not only is there no replacement reserve; there is no central strategic reserve, no "mass of manœuvre" in Germany itself ready to be flung east or west as necessity may arise. The German Army is at full stretch. Each army group commander must meet any emergency which occurs on his front with his own resources.

It is barely possible, of course, that a strategic reserve might be built up by exchanging territory for time and troops. Thus there is a good deal of territory in north and central Russia still held by the Germans, plus the Baltic States and northeastern Poland, which could be abandoned without seriously compromising the German strategic position as a whole. This would bring the northern half of the eastern front into line with the southern half; it would shorten the front, enabling it to be held by fewer troops; and it would greatly shorten the lines of supply, effecting considerable economies in locomotives, railway cars, motor trucks, fuel and transport personnel.

But the southern Russian front (between the Pripet and the Carpathians) and the Rumanian front are already formed along lines which do not permit further retreat to be thought of. The Germans probably do not want the same conditions of strain along the whole eastern front. They do not want Russian air bases close to Germany all along that front. Nor can they be too confident of the result of a concentrated and full-power Russian attack against their shortened line. These are the reasons why, up to the present, we have seen no indication of a German withdrawal in northern and central Russia. A German withdrawal from Italy would save a certain number of troops. So would abandonment of the Balkans, and so also would the evacuation of Norway.

The basic fact is this: the Germans can reconstitute a strategic reserve now only by taking the risks of giving up outlying territory, bringing the Allies closer to the German heartland and standing on fronts which must be held at all costs. They will not do that until they have to. They seem to be saving a withdrawal in the east and south as a last resort, a measure to be considered only after they have taken their gamble in the west. If they can roll back our seaborne and airborne invasion, they may gain a breathing space; no doubt they even have dreams of a compromise peace. Meanwhile, the lines of their strategy, and consequently their troop distribution, are set for the present; and the lack of a central reserve is one of the risks they seem to be accepting, not because they want to but because they must.


The tendency among informed military observers is to discount the satellite armies altogether, with the possible exception of the Hungarians.

Probably the Hungarian Army will fight to resist a Russian invasion of Hungary. It consists of about 25 divisions, of which from 7 to 10 have been mobilized since the Germans took over Hungary. Like the other satellite peoples, the Hungarians are largely equipped with weapons and matériel captured by the Germans in their earlier campaigns; these are obsolescent, and some difficulties in supplying ammunition and spare parts may be anticipated.

The Finns may still resist a Russian thrust into their country, but the Germans know they are pretty well worn down and cannot be counted on. It is thought that the Bulgarians certainly will not fight the Russians, and may even withdraw their forces now occupying parts of Jugoslavia and Greece, leaving additional tasks for the Germans. The Rumanians probably have 18 or 20 divisions nominally in the field; but they are not fighting well, desertions are numerous, and they cannot be counted on for front-line duties. The Germans have mobilized a few Italian units, but these are more than balanced by Italians fighting on our side. The Slovaks are tired of the war. As for the Croat "ustashis," they perform some services for the Axis in Jugoslavia, but their numbers seem to be diminishing, and they are not equal to the Jugoslavs who are in arms against Germany.

Save for the Hungarians, then, the Germans will from now on be fighting more and more alone. They have no dependable allies, and their manpower resources can be bolstered only by forced labor drafts and by using non-German soldiers who have to be watched by Germans.


It would be a mistake to suppose from all this that the German soldier himself is losing his fighting spirit. He is supported by the hope of a compromise peace, held out to him persistently by his own propagandists; by the desire to get revenge for the punishment inflicted on his homeland by Allied air attacks; and above all by a grim determination not to yield to the Allied demand for unconditional surrender, which he does not like at all. He has the idea that anything would be better than that. The propagandists have pictured a terrible fate in store for the German people if surrender is actually forced on Germany. Every soldier knows that Germany is full of foreign workers who hate everything German and that Germany is surrounded by a ring of hatred -- the peoples who for so long have been enslaved and tortured. Above all, there is a deep-seated fear of Russian invasion in every German heart. These things sustain the German soldier and keep him fighting, far from his native land, in the hope of holding back the enemy from his frontiers and of keeping part of the terrible Allied air power at a distance from his home. Every yard of foreign territory that he is compelled to give up he regards, not so much as conquered land which he, the one-time conqueror, has been forced to relinquish, but as bringing his own home a yard nearer the Allied armies and air forces. On the other hand, examination of prisoners has shown paradoxically that many German soldiers feel somehow comforted as they fall back, because they are getting nearer to the Fatherland, it takes less time to go home on leave, and mail and parcels from home come more quickly.

The principal defect in the morale of the German soldier is a slowly developing sense of futility. What's the use of it all? Why must more blood be spilt, more men die, more days be spent in torment? Most German soldiers know now that Germany cannot win, at least not this time. They talk glibly, some of them, of "next time," counting on the fact that Germany has conserved her strength and has deliberately weakened the rest of Europe. But they know that this time they have lost. There are some despairing hearts and some fierce and unthinking fanatics; but these are the extremes, and the minority. The hopes of most center on putting up such a fight as shall win for Germany some sort of compromise peace, and a chance to try again. That, in general, is why most German soldiers now fight.

The hope of a compromise peace is largely based, in turn, on the hope of thrusting back the first wave of western invasion in bloody defeat. If this hope should be blasted; if the western allies should establish themselves firmly on the Continent; if Germany should be walled in by converging Allied armies on the east, the west and the south -- then it is possible that the effect on the morale of the German soldier might be catastrophic, and suddenly so.

The German soldier's armament and equipment continue to be of high quality. The chief defect here is the lack of new models and new designs. The air offensive and the shortage of raw materials have pinched German production sufficiently so that there is no longer time, in most cases, to re-tool and switch over to production of entirely new designs. Instead, attempts are made to patch improvements on old models, which is never so satisfactory as a complete change to meet the needs discovered in actual practice. As to quantity, there is a distinct shortage in heavier types of equipment, notably tanks and self-propelled guns. This is due both to the air offensive and to the terrific losses of heavy equipment in Russia. There is reason to believe, however, that the Germans have a sufficient production of material to fight a defensive war throughout the remainder of this year, and that the quality of it will not fall sufficiently to make much actual difference in the result.


To sum up: The Germans have about 320 divisions of all types, plus corps and army troops. They have no replacement reserve, and no strategic central reserve. They are fully committed on all fronts. They can create a reserve only by giving up territory, which they are reluctant to do. They are using non-Germans in every position where a non-German can be safely employed, but they have no reliable allies. Their strategy is pretty well set for this year. It consists of holding back the Russians while trying to defeat the invasion in the west. The morale of the German soldier is still good, and will remain so as long as the hope of defeating the invasion continues. But losses cannot be replaced, and defeats will have a cumulative effect, both moral and material.

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  • GEORGE FIELDING ELIOT, military and naval correspondent of the New York Herald Tribune; author of "The Ramparts We Watch," "Hour of Triumph" and other works
  • More By George Fielding Eliot