January 7, 2023

1944. The 256th Volksgrenadier Division

The Volksgrenadier
Volksgrenadier soldiers in the Ardennes in 1944 (source)
From Newsweek, November 20, 1944, p. 38:

The Bottom of the Barrel

Bill Downs, war correspondent for Newsweek and the Columbia Broadcasting System, sent the following account of how the products of Hitler's barrel-scraping conscription decrees are fighting.

Volksgrenadier was the name Hitler gave to the new units which were formed out of remnants of his defeated armies, plus new recruits and transferred personnel from other branches of service. The first of these formations encountered by the Allies was the 256th Division. The British ran up against it in the Hertogenbosch area in October.

Rag, Tag, Bobtail: According to prisoners, the division originally was the 256th Infantry Division which served in Russia but was so decimated in the fighting last June that survivors were returned to the Wehrmacht reserve for re-forming. The division was reconstituted on Sept. 8 as a Volksgrenadier unit. One-quarter of its members were veteran survivors of the old division. Another quarter came from replacement battalions stationed in Saxony. Another group came as draft from the German Navy. The remainder were old men and youngsters brought into the army under the Nazis' latest manpower orders.

The division was given a few months' training and then dispatched to man what then was a quiet sector around Tilburg. The luckless Volksgrenadier unit arrived just in time to run into the British offensive to clean up Southern Holland. They were mowed down. But even these inexperienced soldiers fought well and died bravely. The British found one man of about 50 who, though critically wounded, refused medical treatment and during the last half hour of his life constantly tried to reach for a clip of cartridges for his tommy gun in order to continue fighting

These Volksgrenadier units are being made to feel they are "Minute Men" defending their county. Many of them say it is not a question of being for or against Hitler—it is a question of Germany. That is how they are going into battle. As evidence of how seriously they are taking the war a captured document shows one platoon on daily 17-hour basic duty.