Volkssturm

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The Volkssturm (German pronunciation: [ˈfɔlks.ʃtʊɐ̯m], lit. "folk storm", "people's assault"; "People's" or "National Militia") was a German national militia of the last months of World War II. It was founded on Adolf Hitler's orders on October 18, 1944 and conscripted males between the ages of 16 to 60 years who were not already serving in some military unit as part of a German Home Guard.

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Origins and organization

The new Volkssturm drew inspiration from the old Prussian Landsturm of 1813-1815,[1] that fought in the liberation wars against Napoleon, mainly as guerrilla forces. Plans to form a Landsturm national militia in Eastern Germany as a last resort to boost fighting strength initially came from Oberkommando des Heeres chief General Heinz Guderian in 1944. Because the Wehrmacht was lacking manpower to stop the Soviet advance, men in jobs not deemed necessary or previously deemed unfit for military service were now called under arms. The Volkssturm had existed, on paper, since approximately 1925, however it was only after Hitler ordered Martin Bormann to recruit six million men for this militia that the group became a physical reality. The intended strength of six million was never attained.

Goebbels and other propagandists depicted the Volkssturm as an outburst of enthusiasm and will to resist.[1] It did create some morale, but this was undermined by their visible lack of uniforms and weaponry for the fight.[2] Nazi themes of death, transcendence, and commemoration were given full play to encourage the fight.[3]

In order for these militia units to be effective, Hitler and Bormann counted not only on strength in numbers, but also in fanaticism. During the early stages of Volkssturm planning, it became apparent that if militia units lacked morale they would lack combat effectiveness. To achieve the envisaged fanaticism, Volkssturm units were placed under direct command of the local Nazi party, meaning local Gau- and Kreisleiters. The new Volkssturm was also to become a nation-wide organization, with Heinrich Himmler, as Replacement Army Commander, responsible for armament and training. Though normally under party control, Volkssturm units were placed under Wehrmacht command when engaging in action.

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