The Canadian Army faced a number of different types of German formations during the Second World War.
The mainstay of the German Army in the Second World War was its infantry formations.
Our perception of land operations in the Second World War has...been distorted by an excessive emphasis upon the hardware employed. The main focus of attention has been the tank and the formations that employed it, most notably the (German) panzer divisions. Despite the fact that only 40 of the 520 German divisions that saw combat were panzer divisions (there were also an extra 24 motorised/panzergrenadier divisions), the history of German operations has been written largely in terms of blitzkrieg and has concentrated almost exclusively upon the exploits of the mechanized formations. Even more misleadingly, this presentation of ground combat as a largely armored confrontation has been extended to cover Allied operations, so that in the popular imagination the exploits of the British and Commonwealth Armies, with only 11 armored divisions out of 73 (that saw combat), and of the Americans in Europe, with only 16 out of 59, are typified by tanks sweeping around the Western Desert or trying to keep up with Patton in the race through Sicily and across northern France. Of course, these armored forces did play a somewhat more important role in operations than the simple proportions might indicate, but it still has to be stressed that they in no way dominated the battlefield or precipitated the evolution of completely new modes of warfare (emphasis added).1
Motor transport was generally uncommon in most German infantry units of the Second World War. The Germans relied on animal carts; the standard model in 1939 drawn by two-horses on which a rifle platoon carried its mortar and light machine guns when not in action, replaced later with a four-horse model made of steel with rubber tires. The new carts were too unwieldy on the primitive roads of Russia, and smaller one-horse carts and native panjes were used instead. In action, the carts were left well behind the firing line. In Normandy, "static" formations with even smaller scales of transport were used for coastal defence, expected to fight it out on the shore-line.2
While most European armies also employed a handful of motor cars and motorcycles/bicycles in their infantry companies (including the Germans), the Canadian Army was in the Second World War completely mechanized and used 15-cwt trucks, one per platoon – but the men still walked everywhere as the truck was solely for storing platoon stores such as greatcoats, sleeping gear (two blankets per man) and other non-essential equipment. Larger trucks were organized into Transport units at division level; these TCVs (troop carrying vehicles) were parcelled out as necessary – and never into battle but well behind the front.
Germany had just 21 infantry divisions in 1934. Through 35 “waves of establishment”, new divisions were created rapidly during the rearmament period. During the entire war, some 294 definitive infantry divisions were employed, though deceptive numbering would lead one to believe the total as high as 719. Other formations were created, including training divisions, security divisions, permanent sector divisions, coast guard divisions, replacement and training divisions, and ad hoc units most of which were not representative of a true infantry division. The campaign in Poland employed 37.5 divisions with 38 more stationed on the western frontier. Five divisions went to Norway, and during the campaigns of May 1940, the Army employed 141 infantry divisions (123 in the west, 5 in Poland, 5 in Norway and Denmark, and 8 in Germany). The victory in France caused 23 divisions to actually be disbanded. In the Balkans, four divisions were employed, and at the start of the invasion of Russia, the German Army had 152 infantry divisions in all areas.3
In all, the typical German Infantry Division numbered almost 17,000 men. Anti-aircraft and armour assets were organized into corps-level units, or into their own divisions. The only fully-motorized elements of the division were the anti-tank companies at both battalion and regimental level - all other elements either walked and/or relied on horses.
In October 1942, Infantry Regiments were renamed as Grenadier Regiments, as a bow to tradition and the army of Frederick the Great, a personal hero of Adolf Hitler's. The rank title of a private soldier also changed from Schütze to Grenadier. The change in regimental designation denoted no change in actual organization, equipment or employment, though by this period, some divisions were reduced to a two-regiment establishment (a change made as early as January 1942). An increase in firepower theoretically made up for the shortfall in manpower.4 The most notable change was the upgrading of the 75mm artillery pieces to 105mm weapons. The 12.0cm mortar was also more common in infantry battalion mortar platoons in place of the 8.1cm weapon.
A new divisional organization was introduced in October 1943; referred to as the M1944 Division, it called for 11,317 German personnel and 1,455 auxiliaries (the Hilfwilliger, or volunteers from captured Russian personnel). The division was 28% leaner in terms of personnel, but again had a slight increase in firepower.5
The differences in the new organization were chiefly an elimination of one of the infantry battalions, and the replacement of the reconnaissance unit with a “Fusilier” battalion, in actuality a grenadier battalion with one company equipped with bicycles. The artillery regiment also lost a battalion of guns, but anti-tank firepower increased with the addition of larger weapons as well as self-propelled mounts such as the Hetzer. Of necessity, an increasingly deadly array of anti-tank weaponry was introduced, from magnetic mines to hand held disposable rocket launchers which improved in quality as the war went on, to the bazooka-inspired Panzerschreck. But hand in hand with new weapons came decreases in manpower, and the established strengths of German units decreased as the war went on. Infantry squads of 10 men were replaced with a nine man organization, for example, and the support services in the division were cut to the bone. In practice these numbers meant little in any event, as German infantry divisions were rarely pulled out of the line for refitting. In March 1944, the 1st Infantry Division was still in the line with only two grenadier battalions (of the authorized six), 1 battalion of artillery (of the authorized three) and no anti-tank guns. The 75th Infantry Division was slightly better off, with 3 Grenadier battalions, 1 light and 1 heavy artillery battalion, but no anti-tank guns. “These were no longer divisions, but only more or less weak battle groups - and these conditions prevailed almost everywhere on the Eastern Front.”6
In the last two years of the war, infantry divisions still accounted for about 82% of the Army's divisions. In December 1944, the infantry division was again restructured into a M1945 Division, now numbering 11,211 German troops and 698 auxiliaries. The changes were mainly in the supporting services, and manpower was further reduced in March 1945 to an official total of 10,728 Germans and 642 auxiliaries. In practice, these numbers were rarely achieved.7
The Germans were renowned for their ability to create Kampfgruppen (Battle Groups) out of disparate elements. These were either purposeful (temporary) reorganizations for a specific task, using elements of different formations, or else the welding together of remnants of shattered formations. Usually named after their commander, or after the main formation from which their elements were drawn, the groups ranged in size from small detachments to divisional size units. In 1945, at least one division was actually formed from a Kampfgruppe rather than the normal recruiting and formation methods.8 As well, “larger assets were sometimes assembled as available into a 'divisional staff for special employment' (Division zur besonderen Verwendung - zbV) lacking a conventional divisional organization.” 9
In North Africa alone, where a tiny proportion of German forces were allocated, 101 separate battle groups or other special organizations are recorded as having been in existence and employed in combat (so-called “March Battalions” or “March Groups” formed solely for transport have not been counted).10
The German Army began the war with Poland with 4,500 armoured fighting vehicles, of which under 600 were armed with guns larger than 20mm. In France, German AFVs were outnumbered by British and French by 4,000 to 2,800. German tanks were marked by reliability for the most part, but also complexity and over-engineering, as well as a lack of standardization leading to problems in the mass production of vehicles. Shortages of AFVs also led to their constant use, and the sheer number of differing types led to supply and repair problems.
Halftracked personnel carriers, in theory the standard mount of the elite Schützen and Panzergrenadier regiments of the Panzer divisions, were never available in adequate numbers. Tanks capable of keeping pace with Russian tank design were long in coming, with the Tiger appearing in late 1942 and the even better Panther delayed until the summer of 1943. By this point, the disasters at Stalingrad and El Alamein had occurred.
The Germans entered the Soviet Union with an initial force of 3,350 armoured vehicles, and production was not increased to war levels until late 1942. Over 20,000 vehicles were built in 1943 after the move to a war footing (some 350% the number of vehicles produced in 1941), though a third of this total represented armoured halftracks. By the end of the war, 80,000 AFVs had been built by Germany - with only 22,000+ being main battle tanks. By way of contrast, the US produced almost 50,000 Shermans (with few going to the Pacific) and the Soviets produced some 71,000 T-34, KV and IS tanks.
The discovery of T-34 and KV-1 tanks in the summer of 1941 was a rude shock. It was not until late 1942 and the introduction of the Tiger that the German armoured force had a heavy tank of its own in sizable numbers. German armour had many advantages over Russian armour from the beginning of the campaign, including mechanical reliability, optics and crew training. The use of wireless allowed for flexible command and control over armoured formations, and German tank units were deployed en masse for maximum efficiency.
In 1939, most trucks used by motorized infantry had been road-bound and could not travel cross-country with the tanks. After the Polish Campaign, armoured divisions were increased in infantry power; in 1942 the Schützen regiments were designated Panzergrenadier, and in tandem with this name change came the introduction of SPW halftracks - initially intended for issue to two full battalions in each division with these halftracks, in reality only one battalion per division became the norm. In France, this allotment had been only one company of armoured infantry for every panzer division. Of 226 panzergrenadier battalions in the whole of the German Army, Luftwaffe and Waffen SS in September 1943, only 26 were equipped with armoured half tracks.
Strategically, Germany never developed successful armour policies once initiative passed to the Allies; tanks were thrown into new offensive operations rather than used defensively. Self-propelled guns became common, as these were cheaper to produce than tanks, though having 17 separate major types of assault gun did not ease logistical burdens.
Panzer and panzer grenadier divisions raised by the Army, Waffen SS and even the Luftwaffe in 1943, spearheaded all critical German attacks and counterattacks from 1939 to 1945. Concentrating heavy firepower in their panzer regiments, the panzer divisions constituted the core of the German Army's offensive capacity - despite battle attrition, production shortages, terrain factors and changing tactical requirements frequently giving rise to modifications in equipment and organizations. In later years these formations, instead of exploiting their flexibility and striking power to the degree apparent in (the) campaigns (in) 1939-41, were more often than not unable to break free from a day-to-day commitment to Hitler's linear 'no step back' strategy. They were, in any event, too few to win more than temporary respite from retreat. Ironically, as the war progressed and the number of panzer and panzer grenadier divisions increased, tank strengths declined.11
The German Panzer (armoured) Division was intended as the prime striking force of the German Army. The question of employment of tanks occupied the Germans in the interwar years, and like the debate in other first world armies, two schools of thought emerged; one seeing armour formations as infantry support vehicles and another seeing it playing a larger role in creating breakthroughs and operating in mass and depth behind enemy lines. In the first year of the Second World War, armour was used conservatively to achieve the historical aims of German operations - encirclement and annihilation battles. By the time Russia was invaded, confidence and experience allowed for deeper operations.
As was the case in the British Army, armoured divisions at the start of the war were “tank-heavy”. Just six divisions were available for the invasion of Poland, with two regiments of tanks and a small infantry component. In 1939, that component was the two-battalion Schützen Regiment. Some divisions had two such regiments, formed into a Brigade, others combined a Schützen Regiment with a motorcycle battalion. Prior to the French campaign, the divisions were reorganized with one regiment of tanks and two of infantry. Reconnaissance, artillery and anti-tank support were all integral to the Panzer Division, and the use of wireless communication to keep not only units but also individual tanks in contact with each other and their commanders gave the German armoured forces a considerable tactical edge. While German tanks were often outgunned or under-armoured even in the first year of the war, superior crew training and vehicle layout gave them an advantage over their enemies, who often had tanks lacking radios and with one-man turrets.12
The assault artillery branch was expanded during the war, and of necessity assault guns came to be used as a substitute for tanks, as were the anti-tank units which was renamed Panzerjäger (tank hunter) during the war, from their original, more passive title of Panzerabwehr (tank defence).
Panzergrenadier (abbreviated PzGren) is a German term for motorized motorized or mechanized infantry, as introduced during the Second World War.
The term Panzergrenadier was not adopted until 1942. Infantry in panzer divisions from 1939 onwards were known as Schützen Regiments; they wore the same rose pink piping on their uniforms as the tank crews. Soldiers in special Motorized Infantry units wore the standard white piping of the Infantry. In 1942, when Infantry Regiments were renamed as Grenadier Regiments by Hitler as a historical homage to Frederick the Great's Army, the Schützen regiments (and the soldiers in them) began to be redesignated as Panzergrenadiers, as did Motorized Infantry units and soldiers. Their waffenfarbe was also changed from either white (in the case of Motorized Infantry) or rose pink (with an "S" cypher that distinguished the Schützen from the tank and anti-tank units that also wore that colour) to a grass green shade previously worn by motorcycle troops. Some units did not changeover their designations and/or waffenfarbe accoutrements until 1943.
The term Panzergrenadier was applied equally to both the infantry component of panzer divisions as well as the new divisions known as Panzergrenadier Divisions. Most of the Army Panzergrenadier divisions evolved via upgrades from ordinary infantry divisions, first to Motorized Infantry divisions and then to Panzergrenadier divisions, retaining their numerical designation within the series for infantry divisions throughout the process. This included
Others, such as the Großdeutschland Division, were built up over the course of the war by repeatedly augmenting the size of an elite regiment or battalion. The Waffen SS also created several Panzergrenadier divisions by the same methods, or by creating new divisions from scratch later in the war. A number of divisions in both were upgraded to Panzer divisions as the war progressed.
The Panzergrenadier divisions were organized as combined arms formations, usually with six battalions of truck-mounted infantry organized into either two or three regiments, a battalion of tanks, and an ordinary division's complement of artillery, reconnaissance units, combat engineers, anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery. All these support elements would also be mechanized in a Panzergrenadier division, though most of the artillery, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft elements were equipped with weapons towed by trucks rather than the relatively rare armored and self-propelled models. In practice the Pzg. divisions were often equipped with assault guns rather than tanks, due to a chronic shortage of tanks throughout the German armed forces. A few elite units, on the other hand, might have the tanks plus a battalion of heavy assault guns for their anti-tank element, and armored carriers for some of their infantry battalions as well.
On paper a Panzergrenadier division had one fewer tank battalion than a Panzer division, but two more infantry battalions, and thus was almost as strong as a Panzer division, especially on the defensive.
The use of armoured halftracks was exceedingly rare in the German Army, and even the elite Großdeutschland, with two panzergrenadier regiments, or Panzer Lehr only mustered a few companies worth of the vehicles, generally Sd Kfz 251 troop carriers. The vast majority of Schützen/Panzergrenadier soldiers were mounted in trucks. Additionally, vehicles in the early war period suffered from poor off-road performance.
Panzergrenadier divisions were formed from the former Motorized Infantry divisions in 1943; like the Panzer Divisions, they were theoretically supposed to have halftrack mounted infantry, yet about 90 percent of the battalions relied on trucks throughout the war. A standard Panzergrenadier Division had six battalions of motorized or armoured infantry as described under Panzer Divisions, in either two or three regiments, with a single battalion of tanks as well as supporting units. On paper, then, the division had one less battalion of tanks than a Panzer Division but two more battalions of infantry. As the war progressed, the tanks were replaced by assault guns. Several divisions were destroyed and rebuilt during their histories.13
The Waffen SS
The roots of the Waffen SS lay in the political turmoil in Germany after the First World War. The SA, charged with protecting the fledgling Nazi Party from opposing groups, rose to number 3 million members by 1933 while at the same time a Schutz Staffel (Protection Squad) was created as Hitler's personal bodyguard. By 1929 the group had 280 members and under the leadership of Himmler rose to 30,000 members by 1933. After the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, the SS grew in importance, taking over political police work and becoming increasingly important in the realms of Party and government.
The SS as a whole was largely a bureaucratic and political entity who controlled key security functions such as the SD (Security Police), Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei - Secret State Police), and Concentration Camps. At the outbreak of war, a small group of SS men, armed and trained as soldiers for service in the field, had been created. Collectively known as SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), these men included four motorized infantry regiments. Hitler saw the SS as an elite and loyal political police force which would keep control in the conquered territories and at home. Himmler, whose powers as head of the SS and several national police agencies had become truly awe-inspiring, dreamed of creating a modern day Knighthood of racially pure Aryans. Due to these ambitions, and the high standards imposed on SS recruits, the SS men were given an opportunity to prove themselves in combat.
The performance of the SS-VT in Poland and France (by 1940, numbering just over two divisions and renamed Waffen SS) was sufficient to ensure they were active during the Balkans campaign in 1941. By June, five divisions (at least in name) and a brigade were available for action. One of these, Wiking, had half its strength made up of non-Germans: volunteers from across Europe who had volunteered to fight against Communism. In addition, ethnic Germans in other nations were also permitted to join German SS units.
Waffen SS Formations - June 1941
Despite poor showings by Polizei and Nord, the performance of the other divisions earned the Waffen SS a reputation for steadfastness and respect from their comrades in the Army. The year 1942 saw more divisions created; Polizei joined the Waffen SS proper, and both a mountain division and a Cavalry division were formed. The former (Prinz Eugen) was created from Austrian-Germans and served (notoriously) on anti-partisan duties in Yugoslavia.14
The SS as a whole came to oversee
many important functions of the German government prior to and
during the Second World War, including internal security and
policing, including the Gestapo , the criminal police, and
foreign espionage units. As well, the SS had control over the
units administering concentration camps and organized the
einsatzgruppen (Special Action Groups) who initiated the
mass extermination of 10 to 12 million persons, including the 5
to 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. The Waffen SS was a
military branch of the SS, generally unrelated to the other
organizations described above, though some direct links did
exist. For example, one of the combat divisions (3. SS Division
"Totenkopf") shared personnel with the concentration camp guards
(collectively known as the SS-Totenkopfverbände ("Death's Head")
At the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen SS was condemned as an illegal organization due to the number or atrocities committed by soldiers of several formations. The 12th SS Panzer Division had been responsible for over 100 murders of Canadian prisoners in the Battle of Normandy.
The German Air Force (Luftwaffe)
Like the Waffen SS, the Luftwaffe was very much influenced by the personality and political clout of its commander. Hermann Göring, former fighter ace and number two man in Nazi Germany, wanted his personal empire to play an important role in German victories. As early as 1933, Göring had organized the General Göring Police Regiment (as part of his portfolio as Prussian Minister of the Interior), which later became the famed Hermann Göring Panzer Division.
The Army's single parachute battalion had been disbanded before the war, though the Army did keep the 22nd Air-Landing Division, which operated mostly as normal ground infantry and was not parachute trained. A 91st Air Landing Division was formed by the Army later in the war but never operated in its intended role.
With the passing of responsibility of airborne troops to the Air Force, an airborne division was created in 1938, originally intended to be organized along the lines of a standard Infantry division. The 7th Flieger Division, as it was known, was not actually brought up to full strength before 1941, and its battalions were deployed independently in the operations of 1939-40. By May 1941, the division comprised three Parachute Regiments (unlike British or American practice, there was not a separate organization for glider troops), an artillery battalion, anti-tank battalion, anti-aircraft battalion, machine gun battalion, pioneer battalion, and support units.
After the battle on Crete, the casualties suffered by the division caused Hitler to forbid their future employment in their intended role. The division was used as ground forces in Yugoslavia and Russia. Parachute trained units (notably the Ramcke Brigade) also fought in North Africa. In the spring of 1943, 7 Flieger Division was refitted and redesignated to become 1 Fallschirmjäger Division. 2 Fallschirmjäger Division was created and stationed in Italy in the last half of 1943 before moving to the Eastern Front, leaving a cadre in Italy around which 4 Fallschirmjäger Divison was formed. Several other divisions were formed; none were ever employed as parachute troops. Some parachute trained men were used to form various commando units such as the SS Parachute Battalion 500, a squadron of the Luftwaffe's Kampfgeschwader 200 (which specialized in flying captured aircraft) as well as the Army's Brandenburg commandos. While small groups of paratroopers were used for special missions (the rescue of Mussolini in September 1943, for example, or the deception operations in the Ardennes in December 1944), no large scale drops were made for the remainder of the war.
Unlike Army infantry companies, the parachute battalion called for an officer to command each platoon (the ratio in Army units was one officer platoon commander for every three platoons, often less). The battalion had a variety of motorized transport vehicles (though often replaced by horse-drawn vehicles due to shortages). In reality, the “parachute” battalion by the mid-war period was a reinforced, motorized infantry battalion, with extra heavy weapons making it well-suited to its now defensive role. Originally with four 12-man squads, the parachute platoon had by this time been reduced to three 11-man squads, but each squad had an extra LMG, giving it more firepower than the normal 9-man squad in the Army's Grenadier battalions.
Luftwaffe Parachute Divisions
Other Luftwaffe Ground Forces
By 1941, the Luftwaffe numbered nearly 2,000,000 men, the largest percentage of these being anti-aircraft personnel and signal troops, with a small minority of men actually being associated with aerial operations. Overall, of all of Germany's total manpower of armed troops, the Air Force accounted for twenty percent. The first six months of campaigning in Russia cost the Army some 700,000 casualties, with half that number again lost in the first three months of 1942. Replacements could not make good these losses, and front line Army units were continually short handed. When the Army requested a transfer of 50,000 Air Force troops to their control, Göring convinced Hitler that the solution was not to lose politically loyal troops to the tradition-bound Army (the Air Force was considered most National Socialist of the three services, the Navy was traditionally Christian, and the Army was widely considered reactionary) but to create Luftwaffe ground units. In September 1942, the first calls went out for volunteers, with a target of 100,000 men set.
In the meantime, anti-aircraft units had already accompanied Army troops into Russia, and an entire division of paratroopers were employed for the first time in a pure foot soldier role near Leningrad in the autumn of 1941. As the Air Force followed the Army deep into Russia, emergency units were created out of necessity to combat partisans and for security duties around the airfields and supply bases. Successful deployment of emergency units in early 1942, necessitated by the Soviet counterattacks against Army Group Centre, led to the creation of Luftwaffe Field Regiments, and the satisfactory performance of Division Meindl (a cobbling together of several such Field Regiments) in particular prompted the creation of the first ten Luftwaffe Field Divisions in September 1942.
The 10 Field Divisions were scattered throughout Russia immediately, and despite Göring's personal intention they be used only for defensive duties were instead employed in attack roles - notably during the attempt to relieve the 6th Army at Stalingrad. Some divisions went to form all-Luftwaffe corps while others were assigned to Army formations. Heavy casualty rates and poor performance caused the Air Force and Army both to re-evaluate their necessity, but nonetheless these ground divisions remained on active duty throughout 1942 and into 1943. By the summer of 1943, 22 Field Divisions were in existence, and it was recognized that they were occupying portions of line that regular Army divisions would have occupied, but without much of the same equipment (or training). Proposals to reorganize the divisions were not made before their deficiencies were once again showcased by heavy casualties in the Soviet offensives in the autumn of 1943. In November, they were ordered transferred to Army command.
The Army replaced Luftwaffe officers up and down the chain of command in the divisions with Army officers, upgraded equipment and organization to match the standard Model 1944 Army Division, assigned Army post office numbers and redesignated the former Luftwaffe Field Divisions as Field Divisions (Luftwaffe). The reorganizations did not go entirely smoothly; anti-aircraft battalions never transferred to Army command and were taken from the divisions, and many veteran officers, NCOs and men transferred to other Luftwaffe duties, notably paratroop units.
The beginning of 1944 saw the Field Divisions again suffer heavy casualties in Soviet attacks along the front and by the end of the summer of 1944 only two divisions were left in the Soviet Union. They went on to fight with Army Group Kurland, some remnants holding out until May 1945.
It is estimated that 250,000 volunteers joined the Field Divisions in 1942 and 1943, and that 180,000 transferred to Army command in the winter of 1943. Most of these men no doubt became casualties as the divisions were destroyed in 1944. The experiment had been a costly failure; not only in men's lives but also considering the issue of weapons and vehicles had delayed the refitting of Army formations that might have made better use of them.
Luftwaffe Field Divisions
Fallschirmpanzerdivision Hermann Göring
One final formation to see action with the Luftwaffe was the Hermann Göring Division, which had an extensive history from its beginnings as a battalion in 1935, then regiment, then division on Sicily and at Anzio, but did not see service on the Eastern Front until August 1944, after which it served extensively in the East, in the central sector until February 1945, and in Poland and East Prussia until the end of hostilities. This division formed the nucleus of an entire panzer corps, but like the Panzer Korps Grossdeutschland, was a corps in name only, most component units coming from the division of the same name. Also like the Grossdeutschland, the HG was considered an elite formation and received first rate equipment and recruits, and was equipped as an armour-heavy panzergrenadier division with two regiments organized identically to Army panzergrenadiers and a full panzer regiment. In ASL terms, infantry are usually represented by 4-6-8 squads. By 1944, the division was organized along lines similar to an army Panzer division, though with a more generous allotment of equipment.
In all, some 18 million men passed through the German Army, Navy and Air Force (and 12.5 million in the Army alone) in the Second World War with about 1.6 million being killed between 1939 and 1945 on all fronts. At its peak, the Wehrmacht as a whole numbered 9.5 million, and on VE Day numbered 7.8 million.15
Ostruppen (Eastern Troops):
A final category of "German" troops that saw action against Canadian forces was the armed volunteers from the former Soviet states that fought alongside the Germans as formed units. The majority of Ostbataillonen (East Battalions) were formed from non-Russians such as Balts, Caucasians, Cossacks, and Ukrainians. In November 1941, six battalions were organized by Army Group Centre, officially titled Osttruppen (Eastern Troops). The High Command acquiesced and authorized further battalions, on the condition that they not number more than 200 men per battalion and were employed solely for security purposes. Eventually the battalions came to number 950 men each, with a cadre of 36 German officers, NCOs and men.
By the summer of 1942, Osttruppen were employed all over Russia and official regulations attempted to set out orders of dress and rules for the use of German uniform and standardized insignia. In August 1942, Hitler lifted most of the restrictions that had previously applied to the raising of Eastern Troops, primarily in response to an increase in partisan activity behind German lines in the Soviet Union. As the number of units grew, an Inspectorate of Eastern Troops was created in December 1942 (later redesignated the Inspectorate of Volunteer Troops in January 1944) charged with supervising the units, with actual tactical command belonging to the German units to whom the Eastern Troops were attached. Each Army and Army Group also had a headquarters staff to handle the Osttruppen, and an officers training academy for Eastern officers was established in Lithuania. Eventually 71 battalions served in the East.
In early 1943, the Eastern volunteers throughout the German Army (some 48 battalions, plus independent companies and individual Hiwis - but excluding specifically the three Estonian battalions) began to be referred to as the Russkaia Osvoditelnaia Armiia (Russian Liberation Army, abbreviated ROA). The designation was semantic only, the units were never formed as an army and remained subordinate to German formations throughout the German Army.
Attempts by some Germans to have the ROA units disbanded were thwarted when the Inspectorate was able to show some 427,000 Eastern volunteers were on the rolls, enough to man 30 German divisions. These troops were mostly employed in rear areas performing security and construction tasks, and the severe mistrust of these Slavic troops led to widespread transfers to Western Europe or occupied territory in Eastern Europe. The officers' academy in Lithuania transferred to France, and some 42 further battalions - refugees of destroyed German divisions - were transferred to Western Europe. Having originally enlisted to fight communism, many of these eastern troops mutinied, or refused to fight when the western Allies landed in France in June of 1944.
Many of the Eastern Troops also resented the title ROA, having enlisted to free their own territories from Russian rule. The Ukrainians even began to refer to a Ukrainske Vyzvolne Viysko (Ukrainian Liberation Army, or UVV) though this title was applied to the scattered companies and battalions of Ukrainian volunteers throughout the German Army, and like the ROA designation, did not refer to a single formed body but collectively to the widely dispersed individual units.
In November 1944, the ROA was redesignated VS-KONR (Armed Forces of the Committee for the Liberation of the Russian Peoples), and remained 50,000 strong, but the older ROA designation stayed in common use until May 1945. The 1st Infantry (600th German) Division was formed in December 1944, fought briefly on the Oder in April 1945, then switched sides to help liberate Prague from German rule. The 2nd (650th German) and 3rd (599th German) Divisions were never fully formed.