Two Russian women pick through the rubble of devastated Murmansk. Joint German and Finnish forces in Finnish territory launched an offensive against the city in 1941 as part of Operation Silver Fox, and Murmansk suffered extensive destruction, the magnitude of which was rivaled only by the destruction of Leningrad and Stalingrad. However, fierce Soviet resistance and harsh local weather conditions prevented the Germans from capturing the city. Murmansk, Murmansk Oblast, Russia, Soviet Union. April 1942.
Attack of the Stormtroopers
The word “stormtrooper” brings up several well known connotations. To many a “stormtrooper” is the standard footsoldier of the Empire in the Star Wars Trilogy. To others a stormtrooper is a fanatical Nazi street thug or partisan that thrived in Germany during the 1920’s. However the true stormtrooper is much more than both. The first stormtroopers were elite soldiers during World War I who changed the nature and tactics of warfare forever.
In 1915 a highly decorated German soldier named Captain Willy Rohr developed a new set of infantry tactics to break the stalemate of the war. By 1915 World War I in the Western Front had ground into a tense war of attrition characterized by trench warfare. Much of the energy and resources of both sides were spent on developing new technology to break the trenches. Capt. Rohr believed that what was needed was not new technology, but drastically new tactics and assault methods. During World War I most attacks were large frontal assaults conducted by large units such as regiments and battalions. Rohr believed in conducting assaults using smaller squad and platoon level tactics. Capt. Rohr formed the first stormtrooper unit in 1915, which was called the Rohr Battalion. The Rohr Battalion operated much differently than other standard army units.
Rather than attacking an enemy trench en masse with large units, the newly promoted Major Rohr divided his battalion into companies and platoons, investing in his officers the authority to act on their own initiative. When the stormtroopers attacked, they did so under a creeping artillery barrage like other units. However as soon as the stormtroopers reached enemy lines, the battalion split up into individual platoons who attacked the various weak points of the enemy trenches. Most importantly, the stormtroopers were skilled at fighting from cover. When the assault began, some parts of the unit laid down covering fire to keep the enemy’s head down, while others were tasked with the actual job of infiltrating the trench. Once the stormtroopers had captured a trench, the regular infantry would move in to mop up the area and exploit the hole in enemy lines.
While the stormtroopers had special tactics, they also were equipped with special weapons. Stormtroopers were typically armed with lighter and more compact weapons which were better suited for fighting in the confines of a trench. This included carbines, submachine guns, light machine guns, light mortars, flamethrowers, pistols, grenades, trench knives, and clubs. Stormtroopers were also noted for wearing a new helmet called the ”stahlhelm”, which would not be adopted by the rest of the German Army until later in the war.
The success of the stormtroopers caused the German Army to form many more stormtrooper battalions, usually one for every division. In addition, Austria and the Ottoman Empire formed similar assault units of their own. By the final years of the war, Allied forces also formed their own unofficial stormtrooper units.
Today the legacy of the stormtrooper continues on. The idea of conduction an assault with the tactical initiative given to small units, and maneuvering under the protection of covering fire, would be a staple of infantry tactics, used even today.
The Maxim Gun: Britain’s First Machine Gun
Above are a collection of photographs showing the Maxim in action in Belgium and France during the early stages of the Great War. While the Maxim is an iconic machine gun in its own right - the grandfather of all those which followed it. It is the Vickers .303 which replaced it in British Service in 1912 which is most often seen in photographs from the war.
The Vickers .303 heavy machine gun (HMG) was a refined Maxim gun which became Britain’s main HMG for the duration of WWI and WWII and on into the 1960s. However, during the early stages of the war the number of Vickers available could not match demand and older Maxims M1884s were rechambered from their original .45in(11.5mm) into the British army’s standard .303 and allocated to battalions on their way to Flanders.
British battalions at the beginning of the war each had a Machine Gun Section, commanded by a lieutenant, made up of two 6 man squads operating the battalions’ two heavy machine guns. As the war progressed the number of machine guns was increased, before they were seconded to the Machine Gun Corps in 1916 and the Lewis Gun became the standard machine gun of British line battalions.
The Maxim first saw limited use with the British Army during the First Matabele War in 1893 but it officially entered British Service in 1896, seeing action during the First Boer War. In 1912 it was replaced by the improved Vickers however, as the small professional British Army mobilised in 1914 it was clear their were not enough Vickers to equip each battalion destined for France. The rechambered Maxims were allocated to regimental Machine Gun Sections with both the Army and the Royal Marines. Alongside the newer Vickers It saw action during the early stages of the war at the Battles of Mons, Le Cateau, Siege of Antwerpand the First Battle of the Marne. However, as war production stepped up the Vickers became more widely available and the venerable old Maxims were replaced.
Image One: A company of British Royal Marines line a road during the Siege of Antwerp in September 1914. A two man machine gun team tends to a Maxim with an unusual, large pre-war quad-pod.
Image Two: A British Maxim team firing from a woodland position c.1914.
Image Three: The Machine Gun Section of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles poses with their Maxims before embarkation in October 1914.
Image Four: A three man machine gun team of the Royal Sussex Regiment train their Maxim in a shallow scrape trench c. late 1914/early 1915.
Military Small Arms, G Smith, (1994)
A romantic german soldier!
A local girl pinning a flower on a German soldier’s uniform in Olbersdorf, as Nazi forces occupy the Sudetenland (1938)
A German soldier in despair after the Disastrous Battle of Kursk, 1943.
A Room with a View ;-) by True_Bavarian on Flickr.
Black Forest, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
German troops in early trench wafare during ww1.
German soldiers play cards in their trench during the First World War.