Birth Of A Legend
The Sturmtruppen’s Companion, The Kar 98.
“Together!… Wait… Now! Franz, Dieter and Karl jerked the cords in unison, the friction fuses ignited, smoke streamed from the wooden handles as they let fly with the barrage of stick grenades. In slow motion, the end over end summersault of explosives scribed an arch over the intervening section of ground and into the fire-bay on the other side of the traverse. Hans, with bayonet fixed, waited for the blasts, his hands gripping the stock of his carbine so tight he left impressions in the wood with his dirt-filled fingernails.
The blasts reverberated in their ear drums, the sudden overpressure intensifying their rapidly developing headaches. With parched mouth, adrenaline pumping, Hans raced around the intervening stretch of trench, bent on catching any of the surviving Frenchmen in a blast-induced stupor before they could regain their wits and put up any resistance. He rounded the corner into a scene of carnage. Two men were down, lifeless in the bottom of the trench below the fire-step, another staggered forward just in time to catch the blade of the S98/05 square in the sternum. The man groaned, his eyes bulging out of their sockets, the sucking sound of the withdrawal of the blade followed quickly by a scream.
To the right, a French officer with most of his left arm missing struggled to raise his pistol. Crack! The report of Dieters’s Kar 98a resounded in his ears as the Frenchman reeled backward at the impact of the 154-grain .323″ spitzer bullet, falling into the entrance of a nearby dugout.
“Quickly!” Franz motioned to Karl, pointing toward the entrance of the dugout into which the officer’s body lay motionless as he reached into his sack and pulled out another grenade, instinctively unscrewing the fuse cap and unwinding the cord. Dieter fired another round through the doorway into the darkness as Franz jerked the cord of the stick grenade, the friction primer lighting the fuse as he tossed it into the dugout. The smoking grenades disappeared down the stairwell of the shelter, the blasts initiating another round of screams. “Come on! Leave them! On to the next bay!” Dieter slung his carbine and reached into his sack for another stick grenade as they scrambled into position for another round of the Great War’s deadliest game. “Bombing the traverses” was their specialty!
By John Sheehan
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German Storm-trooper – Assault Order circa 1918
Greatcoat – The Model 1915 greatcoat of field gray wool with the distinctive fall collar faced in green is worn over the uniform in this display. Under the greatcoat was worn a variety of different pattern tunics and trousers, all of which were still in service as late as 1918.
Boots – While many of the storm-troopers were issued Pattern 1901 or 1914 ankle boots with puttees, the Model 1866 marching boots were still worn by a large number of the elite German soldiers.
Helmet – This extremely rare example of the M18 Stalhelm is painted in a fall camouflage pattern. While camo’ed M18 stalhelms in excellent condition are rare enough, this particular example has an experimental reinforcing plate mounted flush to the helmets obverse contour and secured in place with nine round-headed rivets. Not much is known about these helmets and only a handful survived over the years. The reinforcing plate was added late in the war in an attempt to provide additional protection in place of the despised stirnpanzer that was originally issued with the stalhelm in 1916. This defensive, “add-on” armor plate was extremely heavy and caused the helmet to slide down over the wearer’s eyes even with the chinstrap in place. It is not known how many of these experimental stalhelm were produced.
Belt – Model 1895 belt with the wartime iron buckle painted field gray beginning in 1915. Surviving prewar original 2-piece brass buckles were also painted field gray to eliminate glare.
Haversack – Worn on the right hip, and here obscured by the right grenade sack is a M1887 bread-bag in which the rations and extra packets of ammunition were carried.
Canteen – Suspended via a spring clip from a metal ring sewn to the bread-bag is one of the many variations of the M1915/17 water bottle. The M1915/17 was an enameled steel, wartime version of the M1907 aluminum water bottle. Per most of the M1915/17 water bottles, this example sports a brown ersatz corduroy cover. Tied to an equipment strap on the back of the assault pack is an M1916 enameled drinking cup, referred to as a “beaker” in the German army.
Pack – To lighten the load and carry more weaponry, the standard issue M1895 cowhide pack was replaced with the M1915 assault pack. The M1892 shelter-half was wrapped around the M1910 mess kit with leather equipment straps while shoulder straps were fashioned from two M1887 bread-bag straps. In warm weather, the M1915 Greatcoat was wrapped in the shelter-half and carried in the assault pack.
Gasmask & Canister – The M1917 Lederschutzmaske gasmask produced from waterproofed horse, dog or sheep leather and featured replaceable filters. As different forms of poison gas were introduced, additional filters were produced that snapped over the primary filter that screwed into the body of the mask. The Zellon and celluloid lenses were backed by a spider-web like reinforcing frame that was designed to protect the wearer’s eyes in the event that as lens was damaged in combat. The M1917 canister was carried around the neck via a long strap. This extremely rare ersatz example is composed of a sheet metal top and bottom with a body that was formed from treated birch bark.
Pioneer shovel and carrier – A M1822 pioneer’s shovel, encased in a wartime designed leather carrier, was employed to rapidly improve defensive positions during any lull in the action.
Flashlight – Attached to the second button of the greatcoat is one of a variety of flashlights used by the German army during WWI.
Grenades – Sewn together with a strap that was hung over the neck and shoulders, two burlap sandbags were slung under each armpit. The bags are full of stick grenades, the primary offensive weapon of the infantry by late 1916. Suspended on the front of the belt by an integral hook is a M1915 stick grenade. To supplement the bags full of grenades carried under each armpit during an assault, additional grenades were frequently suspended from the belt.
Rifle – The Kar 98 was carried slung over the shoulder during the assault to keep both hands free for rapid employment of the stick grenades. To help consolidate captured enemy positions against counterattacks, the Kar 98 provided defensive firepower alongside the light machineguns that were employed in large number by Sturmtruppen formations.
Ammunition – To lighten the load in order to carry more grenades, the standard pair of M1909 leather 3-compartment ammunition pouches were frequently replaced with cotton bandoleers carrying 8x57mmS ammo in 5-round chargers. Different patterns existed with varying numbers of pockets. This rare original example has 14 pockets, each of which contained two 5-round chargers for a total load of 140 rounds. Pre-packed cotton bandoleers of ammunition were first introduced in numerous armies during WWI.
Bayonet – Model 1914 bayonet with steel ersatz scabbard and canvas and leather ersatz bayonet frog worn on the left hip and obscured by the left grenade bag. The bayonet knot or troddel is that of a Prussian NCO. By 1918 a trench knife was often carried in lieu of the bayonet.
German troops wearing spiked “pickelhaube” helmets with canvas covers, firing
on the enemy with Kar 98s in the opening days of the war in the summer of 1914.
A weary German soldier with a Kar 98 slung over his shoulder
breaks or a smoke during the early months of the war.
This rare panoramic combat photo was taken during Operation Michael, the famous
Spring Offensive of 1918 that nearly ended in disaster for the Allies. Sturmtruppen
units advance at a dead run across No-Man’s-Land. While a handful of soldiers are
actually carrying their rifles, the vast majority have their rifles slung keeping both
hands free for the employment of grenades. Pioneer shovels are clearly visible
among the sprinting storm-troopers.
Storm-troopers advancing in short dashes approach the enemy wire during an assault
on the Western Front. The revolutionary development of infiltration tactics by General
Oskar von Hutier on the Eastern Front eventually resulted in breaking the deadlock of
trench warfare on the Western Front. The Allies attempted to solve the same problem
with a different approach—the Tank! Both tactical doctrines were to eventually be employed,
in combination with airpower, in the “Blitzkrieg” tactics of WWII.
Slowed by an enemy wire entanglement, the soldier on the left with his Kar 98 slung,
is wielding a pair of wire cutters to open a path through the barbed wire. His comrade
on the right has his rifle in hand, ready to provide covering fire as necessary.
Heavily laden storm-troopers sprint through an opening in the enemy wire, partially
obscured by a smoke. Artillery shells firing smoke rounds to obscure an attack were
first introduced during the Great War.
In a wider view of the previous photo, a German soldier on the left has braved enemy
fire to stand up and hurl a stick grenade towards an unseen enemy trench. The elite
“Sturmtruppen” units were initially composed of handpicked veterans who were noted
for their “esprit des corps” and aggressive nature.
German troops advance through a cloud of poison gas wearing the M1915
“gummimaske”—one of the first truly effective gasmasks of the war.
A detailed close up of the previous photo shows a pistol wielding officer
leading the assault of storm-troopers wearing the M16 stalhelm.