German Army manpower in the Autumn of 1939
In the Autumn of 1939 the German army had a vast resource of
up to 40 million men that it could use to fight the war. Many of course were too
young, old or unfit. Many worked in reserve occupations. However, of those
available there were three distinct groups:
The aktive truppe were those men who were fully trained
soldiers equipped to fight a ‘modern war.’ They consisted of regular
soldiers, who had joined the army as a profession, and usually held NCO posts
(though there are exceptions to every rule). There were those between the ages
21 and 23 who had completed two years national service between 1935 and
1939 and had returned to their civilian occupations but were placed on
the reserve list. And finally those national servicemen between the ages of
18 and 21 who were still serving their time in the army when war broke
The aktive truppe made up some 25% of available German
manpower in the autumn of 1939.
These were men between the ages of 24 -39 who came of
military age between the two world wars. That is to say they were too young for
the first, and too old to be called up for national service on its introduction
in March 1935. The ‘weiße’
were called up in waves after the commencement of hostilities in September 1939.
They were given a few weeks training and dispatched to their regiments.
made up some 50% of available German manpower in the Autumn of 1939
These were men who had trained before, or during the first
world war. Most had seen combat. After the re-introduction of military service
in 1935 those under the age of 45 were put on the reserve list. Reservists were
called up in August 1939 and most returned with their previous ranks and were
quickly promoted to NCO positions.
Der Reservisten made up some 25% of the manpower available to
the German Army in 1939
As the war progressed and the military situation grew more
grim, the ages of those eligible for military service changed. Older and older
veterans were called up. The age at which young men could be called up was also
reduced as the war went on.
Overall in 1939 the percentage of manpower available to the
German army in the form of trained soldiers (however lightly trained) was about
equal between the aktive truppe, the ‘weiße’ jahrgänge and der reservisten. However, as
the war went on and casualties became inevitable, the ‘weiße’
would take over and make up around 50% of fighting soldiers, while der
reservisten and aktive truppe would dwindle to 25% each. The average age of the
German soldier in World War Two was 35. Compare this with 23 for the British
Army and 21 for the United States Army!
Below is a graph to illustrate available manpower as well as manpower employed by the army in the Autumn of 1939. Its source is Karl-Heinz Frieser’s ‘Blitzkrieg Legende.’