Hitler Youth: Activities--War Service the Volkssturm


Figure 1.--As the War went against the NAZIs yonger boys and older meant were recruited for service. The Volkssturm was established in 1944 as the Soviets and Western Allies poised to plunge into the Fatherland. Some Volksturm boys had Wehrmacht uniforms. Others were just given armbands. This boy is unidentified. Click on the image to see what we can make out from this portrait.

Hitler Youth boys, along with old men, were hastily trained, ill-equipped and not terribly well led were the major recruits for the Volkssturm in the closing months of the year. The HJ boys, however, went into battle with a fervor even beyond that of the Waffen SS. Many accounts exist of battle hardeneded Wehrmacht and and SS troops who met these boy soldiers on the way to battle. Their advise was almost often "Its over. Go home!" The boys, however, armed with a few anti-tank weapons like Panzerfauts and perhaps a machinegun if one could be found, these Hitler Youth schoolboys went into battle. Often they performed amazingly well, even when given hopeless assignments. A book and movie addressing this is The Bridge. Many HJ boys, of course, did not survive. For many, their commiment to Hitler was absolute, even in the boys involved in the hopeless defense of Berlin (April-May 1945). [Hans Holztrager, In a Raging Inferno, 2001.]

Formation

The Allies in July 1944 smashed the Wehrmacht on the Western Front in an Allied offensive culminating in huge losses at Falange. The remaining units retreated from France and Paris was liberated in August. The Russians took Warsaw and Budapest and were poised on the borders of the Reich. As a last ditch effort to stave off defeat in October 1944, all males aged 16 to 60 were required to join the Volkssturm, or Home Guard. The Wehrmacht now disgraced in Hitler's eyes. Thus command of the Volkssturm was given to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. (Himmler by this time had ammassed many other titles in the shrinking Reich such as Chief of the German Police, Minister of the Interior, Chief of Army Armaments, and oversaw many other programs such as intelligence, concentration camp labor, V rocket produtction, Consolidation of German Nationhood (RKF) Voldsdeutsche Mittelstelle RuSHA, and Dienstelle Heissmeyer.) [Padfield, p. 537.] Himmler announced the plan for the Volkssturm to the German people on October 18 over Grossdeurschen radio. Volkssturm meant "People's Storm". A stidio audiance sang "Volk ans Gewehr!" (people to arms!). Himler recalled the Landwehr and Landstrum which had defeated Napoleonic armies and liberated Germany in 1813. He mentioned resisistence like werewoves in areas of the Reich that the Allies had occupied.

Members

Volkssturm units were to be raised in each Gau of the Reich by the NAZI Party Gauleiter. East Prussian Gauleiter Ericfh Koch had already raused a local Volkssturm as he was the firsrt Gauleiter faced with the Red Army. Hitler Youth boys, along with old men, were the major recruits for the Volkssturm in the closing months of the year. As a last ditch measure to save the Third Reich, they were inducted into the Volkssturm. Boys as young as 16 were required to join the Volkssturm, but younger boys were accepted as volunteers. Older men up to age 60 were also inducted. Most men were already on active service. The recruits Volkssturm recruits were mostly boys or men old enough to have been veterans of World War I. The Hitler Youth members were the backbone of the Volkssturm since they had been received some military traing. They were also often more willing to fight than the older men.

Oath

Volkssturm recruits were administered a four part oath:
Part 1: "First, we swear thatm like our fathers, we want to be loyal, loyal to the Führer, whom the Lord God has sent to us, loyal to the Reich which unites att German stems for centuries and that is and will be as it was formerly the regulating power of the European continent. Loyal to the Volk and thereby to ourselves, because we are the most valiable elements to defend and preserve the eternal like of the German peoples, its women and children, and therewith its blood that vhas created so much that is noble for man."
Part 2: To be obedient to all orders from the Führer and superiors
Part 3: To know that the most poweful forces a people could muster were believing hearts and steadfastness.
Part 4: "We have learned from the very mouths of our enemies what we can expect, the destruction of our country, the clearance of our woods, the dissolution of our economy, the annihilation of our towns, the burning down of our villages, and the extermination of our peoples .... Never and nowhere are Volkssturm men [HBC note: Of course many were boys.] permitted to capitulate. If at ant time aesponsible leader believes himself to be in a hopeless position where he must give up the struggle, the usual custom of our brave Navy is valid for the Volkssturm: he must give up the command to that subordinate--even if he be the youngesr--who has the will to continue the fight." [Padfield, pp. 542-543.]

The Blutfahne

The NAZI Blutfahne (Blood flag) was a Swastika flag which had been used by the MAZI plotters trying to seize power in Munich in the attempted Beer Hall Putsch (1923). The flag was the unit banner of the 5th SA Sturm which participated in the Purtch. The Munich police fired on the advancing group and the flag became stained by the blood. SA Storm Trooper Andreas Bauriedl who shot and killed and fell on the flag. After Hitler was released from Landsberg prison, the Blutfahne became perhaps the most revered symbol of the NAZI Party. It was carried by SS Sturmbannführer Jakob Grimminger at important NAZI Party ceremonies. The blood of the NAZI martyrs on the flag was seen as possessing sacred symbolic power. It was ritualized and sanctified in the ceremony which became known as "The Rite of the Blood Flag." The most notable ceremony occurred at the annual NAZI Party rallies at Nuremberg. Hitler would use the Blutfahne to annoit or santify new flags in a kind of priestly religious ritual. Honor guards would present new banners and Hitler would piously touch them with the new Blutfahne. The flag was kept at NAZI Party headquarters in Munich which became a kind if reliquary where it was protected by an SS honor guard. The last ceremonial usage of the flag occurred at a Volkssturm Induction Ceremony in Berlin (October 18 1944). SS Reich Führer Heinrich Himmler oversaw the ceremony. Also present were Keitel, Guderian, Lammers, Bormann, Fiehler, Schepmann and Kraus. This wa the last time the Blutfahne was used. It is not known if it still exists.

Training

The Volkssturm was hastily trained and sometimes not at all. Reichsjugendführer Axmann stated in a memorandum that, "from the Hitler Youth has emerged a movement of young tank busters. There is only victory or annihilation."

Equipment

The Volkssturm was ill-equipped. The most effective weapon given to the Volkssturm was the Panzerfaust, a type of light-weight anti-tank weapon. It was simple but effective. Even an 11 or 12-year old boy could fire it and disable a tank. Quite a few did just that.

Uniform

There was no actual Volkssturm uniform. Some members wore various items of the Wheremacht uniform that may have been available. So some may have looked esentially like Wehrmacht soldiers. Many boys wore their Hitler Youth uniforms if Wehrmacht uniforms stocks were exhausted. While a youth group, it was a uniform and would have been considered preferable to civilian clothes. The Volkssturm members were given black-red armbands which read "Deutsche Wehrmacht".

Leadership

The Volkssturm was poorly led often by inexperienced officers. Often Hitler Youth youth officers were put in charge. One boy who was 17 years old, described his unit, "I stood in front of a platoon of the Volkssturm. Of the 45 men, only 10 were Hitler Youth members; the others were in their 40s and 50s. Herr Wolff, whose son had fallen as a sergeant in the Waffen-SS, was 65. I eyed them with some apprehension: undisciplined, over-aged, unfit civilians wearing black-red armbands with the inscription Deutsche Wehrmacht. I felt very self-conscious as their leader. Some were the fathers of my schoolfriends."

Performance

The HJ boys went into battle with a fervor even beyond that of the Waffen SS. Many accounts exist of battle hardeneded Wehrmacht and and SS troops who met these boy soldiers on the way to battle. Their advise was almost often "Its over. Go home!" The boys, however, armed with a few anti-tank weapons like Panzerfauts and perhaps a machinegun if one could be found, these Hitler Youth schoolboys went into battle. Many looked on the retreating Wheremacht soldiers with disdain. Often they performed amazingly well, even when given hopeless assignments. A book and movie addressing this is The Bridge. Many HJ boys, of course, did not survive. For many, their commiment to Hitler was absolute, even in the boys involved in the hopeless defense of Berlin (April-May 1945). [Holztrager]

Volkssturm units formed from the Hitler Youth would attempt to ambush advancing Allied infantry patrols. Not infrequently if the boys were cut off, the boys would fight to the last and refuse to surender. American and British units report encountering units with children as young as 12 years old. The Russians must have had the same experience.

One of the Volkssturm's most noted engagements took place in Berlin during the Russian onslaught in April 1945. There were 5,000 Hitler Youth boys ordered to defend the Havel River bridge. Their orders were to hold a bridgehead until Wenck's army arrived to save the city. There was in reality, however, no relief on the way. The Wheremacht by April was largely defeated and except for SS units, there major interest was to move west to surrender to the Americans or British rather than move east to engage the Russians. Wenck's relief army existed only in Hitler's mind. After 5 days of fighting, the original 5,000 boys had been reduced to only 500 boys who were still on their feet. These children and many others were sacrificed to provide Hitler afew more days in his bunker.

Sources

Heck, A. A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika (1985)

Holztrager, Hans. In a Raging Inferno, 2001.

Koch, H. W. The Hitler Youth (New York: Stein and Day, 1975).

____________. "Young People: For or Against the Nazis?" History Today Vol. 35, October, 1985, pp. 15-21.

Pafield, Peter. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (Henry Holt and Company: New York, 1990),

Peukert, D. J. K. Inside Nazi Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).

Rempel, G. Hitler's Children: The Hitler Youth and the SS (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975).






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Created: August 9, 2002
Last updated: 11:38 PM 9/17/2009