A history lesson: Volksgrenadiers

A regular firing squad.

We all know them: ragged guys, trained to pass the time until the first grenadiers arrive, constantly spreading their smell in halftracks. But who were they in reality? Well, COH´s Volksgrenadiers differ from the real deal: for instance, there were no Volksgrenadiers around during D-Day, for they were founded later, during the autumn of 1944. At this stage, the shit had truly hit the fan for the Third Reich.

Fifth Panzer Army had been trapped in the Falaise pocket and at the same time the red army had started Operation Bagration and eradicated Army group Centre. On top of that, Germany had serious manpower shortages. The Volksgrenadierdivisions were a more manpower-economical version of the standard Grenadierdivisions. The name “Volksgrenadier” (“grenadier of the people”) was chosen for propagandistic effect.  The same thing had happened even earlier, when all “Infanteriedivisions” were renamed “Grenadierdivisions” because “Grenadier” just sounds cooler and more professional.

The philosophy behind the Volksgrenadiers was giving the individual soldier more firepower. In the older doctrine of the Wehrmacht, the MG gave 90% of the sqads firepower, while the riflemen were only there to support the machine gun crew. To boost the soldiers firepower, more automatic weapons were deployed, for example StG44 assault rifle or the G43 semi-automatic rifle. There also was a positive side effect:  Because there was less and less time to train new soldiers, the more modern weapons were supposed to counter-balance their inexperienced wielders. I presume you are all familiar with this principle from FPS games: Noobs always take the weapons you can “spray and pray” your way to the high score. There were some disadvantages, however, resulting in the horrendous casualty rates of the Volksgrenadiers during the Battle of the Bulge. This development mirrors the Red Army, who equipped whole badly trained infantry-division with the excellent submachineguns PPsH41 and PPD40 in the early years of the war, when the situation was dire and there was a great need for new divisions that could be sent into the fray. When the course of war changed, Germany acted the same.


Some Volksgrenadier divisions were freshly trained, others were formed out of whatever remained of destroyed Grenadier divisions. Because of that, the quality of the different units differed. Some were formed by inexperienced conscripts, others by veterans and others had lost the will to fight after years of war and surrendered rather fast.

Volksgrenadiers are commonly mistaken for the “Volkssturm.” The Volkssturm were militia, consisting of children and old men, formed to defend German home soil against the enemy. These units had basically no training and were often send into combat only with a Panzerfaust and a reassuring speech. (To quote a German general:  “Wenn sie das Ding abgefeuert haben, können sie das Rohr immer noch als Keule benutzen.“ After they fired the thing they can still use the tube as a club.“)

Bottom line: COH´s portrayal of Volksgrenadiers is basically correct. They are cheap troops of rather low combat effectiveness that can be equipped with some automatic weapons for more firepower.



9 Responses to A history lesson: Volksgrenadiers

  1. Logabob says:

    Very cool; I was never sure of CoH’s historical accuracy, but never did much research anyways. It’s nice to see some background on the individual units.

    Makes Logabob want Russian faction!

  2. adrock2xander says:

    Nice post Grunge. Good first one. Welcome to our rag-tag team :O

  3. Kat says:

    Cool! Love it!

    If you have spare time, please do more and more and more 😀 Maybe series of history lessons regarding every infantry unit (squad) in the game? I really appreciate educational purpose of this site, not only game related but also historical aspect 🙂

  4. ts4ever says:

    thanks for your kind comments. I originally wrote this article for the german coh-blog and translated it. I have a little historical series on cohblog and I plan on translating some more episodes.

  5. barit says:

    Great article mate!

    I visit the site every day and the extra content an additional writer brings is more than welcome. Poor Cork must be pumping out an article every few days to keep fresh content on the front page, that has to be time consuming.

  6. Indeed it is. But I love the game so I love writing about it.

  7. Britton McCarthy says:

    As a Re-enactor i aprechaite people going the extra mile to search up the history of long forgotten units, I am sure they would apreciate bieng rememberd to. And to my knowledge you have everything right including the part about the Volkssturm. Loved the Comment from the General by the way.

    I am a Stabsgefreiter of the 18th Volksgrenadier division out of Ontario Canada.

  8. Matanza says:

    Man, this blog is very very nice. I’m addicted to this in the last days. I’m brazilian, fan of this game too.

    You guys know that Brazil fight on WWII too?

    Sorry for terrible english and keep the great work. 😛

  9. Filibert says:

    My first encounter with Volksgrenadier was in Command Ops : Battle from the Bulge. Of course, their characteristics and materials where much more accurately represented, since Company of Heroes is just a game and Command Ops is a wargame.

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