TM-E 30-451 Handbook on German Military Forces

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Technical Manual, TM-E 30-451: Handbook on German Military Forces published in March 1945. — Figures and illustrations are not reproduced, see source details. — As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. — Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



2. Conscription System

a. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT. Systematic universal military training in modern times is an invention of the Germans and has been developed to its highest degree of refinement by them. It grew out of the mass armies which were necessary to overthrow Napoleon and was introduced by a Prussian law of 3 September 1814 as a part of the far-reaching army reforms initiated by Scharnhorst and his colleagues to cope with the new forms of warfare. Ever since then universal compulsory military service has existed in Germany, with the exception of the period from 1918 to 1935, when it was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.

b. BASIC LAWS. On 16 March 1935 the universal service system (allegemeine Wehrpflicht) was reintroduced by the Law Regarding the Structure of the Armed Forces (Gesetz über den Aufbau der Wehrmacht). This law stated in three short sentences that military service was to be based on the principle of universal liability, and that the Army was to be expanded (initially) to a strength of 36 divisions. This was followed on 21 May 1935 by the Military Service Law (Wehrgesetz), which established the purpose and scope of universal service, administrative control of civilian manpower, categories of manpower according to age and training status, rights and duties of military personnel, and methods of call-up and discharge. This law, and the decrees issued under it, still govern the German conscription system after 5 years of war.

c. CONTROLLING AGENCIES. The execution of the system for exercising military supervision of men liable to military service and for examining and conscripting them from civilian life into the Armed Forces is a joint responsibility of the German civilian and military authorities.

(1) Civilian. The Minister of the Interior, controlling all police authorities and the ordinary local registration of the civilian population, is responsible for the registration of men liable for military service. This occurs through the local and district police authorities.

(2) Civilian and military. The Minister of the Interior and the Minister of War jointly issued and jointly apply the Decree regarding Military Examination and Drafting (Verordnung über die Musterung und Aushebung), which involves collaboration of the civilian and military authorities during the phase between first registration and induction. They were also jointly responsible for dividing each corps area into suitable recruiting areas and sub-areas in such a way as both to meet the military needs and to fit, so far as possible, the existing civilian administrative subdivisions of the country.

(3) Military. The Armed Forces High Command controls the machinery for the call-up, induction, and discharge of personnel. This includes the recruiting area and sub-area headquarters which examine and draft recruits and represent the military interests in the administrative control of civilian manpower before and after service.

(4) Chain of military command. This being a matter which concerns all three branches of the Armed Forces, it is supervised by the Replacement Branch (Abteilung Ersatzwesen) of the Conscription and Recruiting Office (Wehrersatzamt) in the Armed Forces High Command (OKW). Emanating from this agency, orders are issued through the various Wehrkreis headquarters (Wehrkreiskommandos, Wkr.Kdo.) to the recruiting area inspectorates (Wehrersatzinspektionen, W.E.I.) and from there to the recruiting sub-area headquarters (Wehrbezirkskommandos, W.B.K.). These control the Military Reporting Offices (Wehrmeldeämter, W.M.A.) and set up from time to time in their districts the examining boards (Musterungsstäbe, Must. Stb.). Most Wehrkreise contain two or three recruiting areas, but Wehrkreis VI, comprising the populous Ruhr and Rhineland region, has four, while Wehrkreise VII, XX, XXI, Böhmen und Mähren, and Generalgouvernement consist of only one such area each. The number of recruiting sub-areas in each area varies between four and a dozen according to local needs. Each recruiting area is controlled by an Inspector of Recruiting Area (Wehrersatzinspekteur), who is a general officer with the status and disciplinary authority of a division commander. (In some cases he may be a naval or air officer, since the recruiting system operates jointly for all three branches.) Recruiting sub-areas are commanded by lieutenant colonels or colonels selected from the class of officers whose suitability for active service in the field has ceased. They have the status of regimental commanders.

There are two recruiting sub-area headquarters which do not come under any Wehrkreis headquarters but directly under the Armed Forces High Command. The Recruiting Sub-Area Headquarters "Ausland" (Wehrbezirkskommando Ausland in Berlin) deals with the registration, control, deferment, and call-up of German citizens in foreign countries (occupied or neutral). During the war it has established branches abroad in occupied countries; in neutral countries it is assisted in its mission by the German consulates. The Maritime Recruiting Sub-Area Headquarters (Wehrbezirkskommando See), with its seat at Hamburg, has the supervision of manpower of all Germans in the merchant marine.

d. CLASSIFICATION OF MANPOWER. (1) Basic concept. "Military service is honorary service to the German people. Every German is liable to military service. In time of war, in addition to liability to military service, every German man and every German women is liable to service to the Fatherland." These are the opening clauses of the Military Service Law of 21 May 1935.

(2) Extent of liability. In time of peace all German males were liable to military service from their 18th birthday until the 31 March following their 45th birthday. (31 March is the end of the German fiscal year.) In East Prussia (separated from the rest of Germany by the Polish corridor), liability was extended until the 31 March following the 55th birthday. The Minister of War was empowered to extend liability in either direction in time of war, and it now extends from 17 (the class born in 1928) to 61 (the 1884 class).

(3) Reserve status. All men not doing their active military service are classified into the following categories:

Reserve I: Those under 35 who have completed their regular period of active service and been discharged. There are only very few fit men in this group today.

Reserve II: Those under 35 who have been through a period of short-term training. This applied before the war to some of the older classes.

Ersatzreserve I: Fit men under 35 who have not been trained.

Ersatzreserve II: Unfit and limited-service men under 35 who have not been trained.

Landwehr I: Trained men between 35 and 45 (actually from 31 March of the year in which the 35th birthday occurs until the 31 March following the 45th birthday).

Landwehr II: Untrained men between 35 and 45.

Landsturm I: Trained men between 45 and 55 (actually from the 31 March following the 45th birthday until the 31 March following the 55th birthday).

Landsturm II: Untrained men between 45 and 55. (The two categories of Landsturm applied in peacetime only to East Prussia; they now include men up to 61.)

(4) Exclusion. The following. categories of men are described as "unworthy to bear arms" and therefore "excluded from military service":

Those sentenced to penal servitude (Zuchthaus).

Those who do not possess the honorary civil rights.

Those subjected to "security and improvement" measures (concentration camp for supposed habitual criminals).

Those deprived of their "worthiness to bear arms" by a court martial.

Those sentenced for activities inimical to the state.

Jews also are excluded from military service, but in wartime are required to do other types of service.

(5) Exemption. Completely unfit men are released from liability to military service. Roman Catholics who have taken holy orders (Subdiakonatsweihe) were not conscripted in time of peace. No other category of person is exempt.

(6) Deferment. No German can be deferred for military service in peace or war for purely personal reasons or by reason of his dependency status except in cases of extreme hardship. Deferment of indispensable employees in essential industries may be applied for by the employer, but it is granted only according to a very rigid quota system. No general class of men is deferred, and each case is judged on its merits. Application for deferment must be repeated at frequent intervals.

e. CONSCRIPTION PROCEDURE. (1) Registration. Usually in the spring of each year in peacetime, under directives issued by the High Command, the incoming class (normally those who were turning 20 during the year) was summoned by the district police authorities (Kreispolizeibehorde) by means of public notices to appear at the local police stations for military registration (polizeiliche Erfassung). It should be noted that under the German administration system the local police always have a complete roster of all residents of their precincts, based on the required registration of residents.

After the outbreak of the war the older classes who had not been covered by this system were registered in a similar manner, and by the end of 1940 all the classes back to those born in 1900 had been registered. The upper age limit was later extended to the 1897 class, then to 1894, and finally in 1944 to the 1884 class. The incoming classes have been registered systematically, each class being summoned at a slightly earlier age than the previous one.

(2) First examination. Shortly after the registration the recruiting sub-area headquarters (Wehrbezirkskommando) issues orders for the holding of the first examination (Musterung) of the registrants. This is carried out according to local registration districts by an examining board (Musterungsstab) which included representatives of the military authorities, the district and local police, the civilian administrative authorities (municipalities or rural district), and the German Labor Service, as well as medical officers. On this occasion the registrants are classified according to their physical fitness. Since December 1943 the categories used have been: fit for regular service (Kriegsverwendungsfähig—Kv.); fit for limited service in the field (bedingt kriegsverwendungsfähig); fit only for labor service (arbeitsverwendungsfähig—av.); totally unfit (wehruntauglich—wu.); and temporarily unfit (zeitlich untauglich). Medical standards have been lowered progressively since 1942.

Following their medical classification the registrants are placed in a reserve category (normally Ersatzreserve I).

(3) Drafting. In peacetime final action on the question of whether or not each individual was to be called up for regular service was taken at a second examination or drafting (Aushebung). This was conducted by the same authorities as the first examination and resulted either in a deferment or in definite assignment to a branch of service. The registrant then was told to go home and await orders. In wartime the procedure has been accelerated, and the drafting is now combined with the call-up.

(4) Call-up. The actual call-up (Einberufung) is issued by mail by the recruiting sub-area headquarters in the form of an induction order (Gestellungsbefehl) directing the registrant to report at a specified time at the headquarters of a unit (in wartime a replacement unit).

(5) Induction. Recruits reporting at a battalion headquarters are first subjected to roll-call and then distributed to the subordinate companies, where the final medical examination and actual induction (Einstellung) takes place. Induction is followed by a mental and physical test to determine the most suitable employment of each man and the administration of the oath of allegiance.

(6) Volunteers. Volunteer applicants for the officer and noncommissioned officer careers apply at reception centers for potential officers and noncommissioned officers (Annahmestellen für den Führernachwuchs), which come under the Inspector General for Potential Officers and non-commissioned officers (GJF). Within limits, the volunteers are given the privilege of selecting their arm or branch of service.

In January 1945 these reception centers were combined with the recruiting centers for the Waffen-SS to form new "Combined Recruiting Centers of the Army and Waffen-SS" (Erganzungsstellen des Heeres und der Waffen-SS). Under Himmler's orders, one of these was established in each Wehrkreis, with branch offices in all major cities. They also deal with volunteers to the ranks for Volks Grenadier divisions and thus facilitate the distribution of manpower under SS control.

Volunteers to the ranks have been numerous during the war, though much less so than in 1914-1918. At the beginning of the war the lower age limit was 17 (instead of 18 for conscripts); it later was lowered to 16 1/2 and then (in 1944) to 16. In the past 2 years a large proportion of the youngest age class has been induced by various kinds of pressure to volunteer, largely for the Waffen-SS.

(7) Discharge. Discharge before completion of the normal period of service was possible in peacetime if a man became "unworthy to bear arms" (by reason of conviction for a major criminal offense) or totally unfit, or if it was discovered that he had been inducted by error. Both this type of discharge and the normal discharge after two years of service were carried out by the unit itself. In wartime this has been modified. In order to be discharged from active service members of the Field Army first must be transferred to the Replacement Army, either by their own unit or by a hospital. In order to relieve these units, however, and to reduce the distance which the infirm soldier must travel to his place of discharge, army discharge centers (Heeres-Entlassungs-Stellen) have been established to handle medical discharge cases. The Waffen-SS has its own corresponding medical discharge center. In the German Air Force, the physical examinations for reception and discharge are given in both combined reception and discharge centers (Annahme- und Entlassungsstellen), which handle either procedure all the way through.

(8) Foreigners. Foreigners and stateless persons, in case they are classified as "racial" Germans, may volunteer for service in the German Army. If they live within Germany, applications are handled by the competent recruiting sub-area headquarters; if they live in foreign countries, they are dealt with by the Recruiting Sub-area Headquarters Ausland in Berlin. Volunteers from the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium) may be inducted without the acquisition of German citizenship. Applications are handled by the Recruiting Sub-area Headquarters Ausland in Berlin.

Since about 1943 virtually all "racial" Germans living in Balkan countries under German domination have been required to "volunteer". The concept of "racial" Germans (Volksdeutsche) has been interpreted very widely by the High Command with the growing stringency of the manpower situation. Especially in the annexed areas of Poland, people who knew scarcely a word of German were classified as belonging to Section 3 of the German Racial List (Abteilung 3 der Deutschen Volksliste); this meant that they were vested with German citizenship for a probationary period of 10 years and were liable to military service but could not rise above the rank of private first class.

Many thousands of genuine foreigners from other occupied countries have been persuaded to join the German Army, often through political or economic pressure. The procedure for their enlistment has varied widely for different nationalities and at different times.

f. HANDLING OF CONSCRIPTS. The three branches of the Armed Forces submit to the Armed Forces High Command, their personnel requirements on the 15th of each month for the second month, following. According to the demands and the general replacement situation the various Wehrkreis headquarters then receive orders specifying how many men are to be inducted for each branch of the Armed Forces.

The Armed Forces High Command determines which age groups are to be drawn upon according to the type of service for which they are required. The Wehrkreis headquarters are bound by these arrangements but may accept volunteers of all age groups.

If men of a certain type are not available within the Wehrkreis where they are required, the Armed Forces High Command may order the transfer of recruits from one Wehrkreis to another.

Within the Wehrkreis, the Wehrkreis headquarters is responsible for distributing the replacement requisitions among the recruiting area and sub-area headquarters as rapidly as possible and with due regard to the varying characteristics of the population in different districts. City areas provide the best material for motorized units, country areas for cavalry and horse-drawn units. A mixing of rural and urban elements is to be aimed at in the interests of regional and national solidarity.

The Navy accepts volunteers from all parts of the Reich. For its seagoing personnel it has a priority on recruits who, by reason of their place of residence or previous experience, are classified as belonging to the "seafaring population" (seemännische Bevölkerung); to man its shore installations it takes conscripts from the Maritime WehrkreiseI, II, X, and XX. The Air Force has a similar priority on conscripts (classified as part of the "aeronautical population" (fliegerische Bevölkerung), which includes those who have belonged to gliding clubs or who joined the aviation branch of the Hitler Youth.

The Army aims at assigning every individual conscript to the type of unit for which his physical condition, his civilian background, and his special abilities best fit him. With this in view, certain standing regulations have been introduced. Thus mountaineers called up in Wehrkreise that maintain no mountain units automatically are transferred to Wehrkreise which do—from Wehrkreise VI, XII, and XX to Wehrkreis VII and from Wehrkreise II, III, IV, VIII, IX, X, XI, XXI, and Böhmen und Mähren to Wehrkreis XVIII.

In general, transfers from one Wehrkreis to another are not made unless there is a cogent reason for them, and they were not frequent until growing manpower difficulties began to make it impossible for some Wehrkreise to meet their obligations from their own resources. In principle, a conscript trains and fights in the company of men from his own province. One significant deviation from this policy was in the treatment of conscripts from the annexed areas of Poland, France, and Yugoslavia. Alsatians generally were sent for training to northeastern Germany (Wehrkreis II) and Poles to the Berlin area (Wehrkreis III) or to the southwest (Wehrkreis V).


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