Saturday, 4 April 2015

German infantry tactics in 1914

1st ZUG (Platoon) finished.
Each ZUG comprising 4 Korporalschafts (Sections)

The Imperial German Infantry tactics used in the first months of the Great War, was based on two important tactical milestones. First the doctrine of fire superiority developed as part of 1888’s “Exerzier-Reglement”, which to a large degree changed German tactics from Shock to Fire, and secondly the 1906 “Exerzier-Reglement”, emphasizing the use of skirmish lines and the individual initiative of squads.

German ZUGs would deploy into open skirmish line,
when advancing under enemy fire.

The result of the innovation was a highly offensive infantry doctrine, prioritizing fast and flexible tic-tac tactics of advance-fire-advance, closing in with the enemy and pouring fire on them, while adopting open formations to suit terrain and the enemy’s defensive fire. The final argument would then be made at the point of the bayonet, as they would press home the charge.

My two latests Korporalschafts - completing my first ZUG.

In effect, most of the German charges during the first battles of WW1 had a similar pattern. Upon reaching the battlefield, the Companies will go from marching order and divide up, advancing in Zugs (Platoons. 3 Platoons per company).

ZUG in marching order. 

Two Zugs to the front, one following behind in support, about 30 paces back.
They would advance closing in on the enemy to a distance of 700 meters before commencing the firefight. If terrain allowed it, they would seek to go even closer. From this distance, the Zugs would open up into skirmisher order with 1-2 meter space between each man. The Zug would then advance in waves, using the terrain for cover best they could. 

The 4 Korporalschafts have split up into "Extended Skirmishers",
offering them flexibility in terrain and protection against enemy fire.

If the terrain was open, and thus offered the enemy a good field of fire, the formation would go from “skirmishers” to “extended skirmishers”, further increasing the distance between each soldier. Again the squads would be the basic tactical attacking unit, as Zug commanders and company commanders would find it increasingly difficult to control the large spread of men.

The "Ausmarsch uniform".
Early 1914 German uniform.

All in all, these dispositions were sound and when used by the superbly drilled German army, and in combination with supporting arms, they would prove effective in the Great War’s early months. The rapid improvement of artillery and automated fire, in combination with German fatigue and French/British Success at stopping the advance on Paris at the Marne, not only threw the Schlieffen Plan out the window, but with it all tactics and doctrines would follow, as the stalemate of trench warfare would force tacticians back to the drawing table to come up with new solutions. 

Organizational chart of a 1914 German Infantry Regiment.

When building my Early War German army, I’m going to go down to company-level rather than battalion. This will offer me a chance to portray the German infantry doctrines actively when playing. My idea is to build two companies, with 3 ZUGs in each – like their historical counterparts. I’ll let the ZUG be my basic unit, with each ZUG being divided into four bases, each representing a “Korporalschaft” (a Section) 

Another beautifully colored picture.
German uniforms 1914.

Here follows a few thoughts on how to play the units in reference to the German Infantry Doctrine used in the great open battles of 1914.

STEP 1: ZUGs advancing.

STEP 2: ZUGs taking light fire, can adopt Skirmish formation,
symbolized by spreading out the bases lightly.

STEP 3: ZUGs advancing under heavy enemy fire, and in need of extra protection can adopt the "Extended Skirmishers" formation, further widening the distance between the bases and breaking up the linear base alignment. This formation will make it harder for enemy automated and artillery fire to target the unit, but also make it increasingly hard for the Company commander to issue effective orders.

I will continue to experiment with rule adaptions, to suit the 1914 tactical situation,
and any suggestions on the matter is much welcome.

Thank you very much for reading!


  1. Awesome paint work on those WWI Germans Soren, some of the best I have seen you do!
    In our more peaceful world of a more united Europe its hard to imagine Europeans trying to wipe each other out in those terrible world wars! Great read as always.

    1. Thanks Chris - I agree completely. When you read about the tremendous human losses at these behemoth battles, often numbered in the hundred-thousands, you just can't grasp that it's only 100 years ago. For me, the scope of the tragedy really gets to me when I look at the remastered color photos. Let's hope awareness of WW1 can help prevent humanity from making similar mistakes in the future. Thanks again for the comment, appreciated it!

  2. Cracking work, as always :-)

    1. Thanks Stephen, and thanks for inspiring me to this project with your own excellent Early War Germans. Perhaps they will someday fight side by side on the gaming table...:0)

    2. That would be something to look forward too :-)

  3. Lovely troops as always, Soren. And thanks for the nice overview (with diagrams) of the tactics. Very useful information.

    1. Thanks a lot Dean - Yeah, I wanted to play around with how arrangement of the bases could best reflect the actual ground tactics used in 1914. Shall be great fun when we eventually get to the testing phase (one or two more units to go). Thanks for staying tuned on the blog!

  4. Allways so interesting to look at your wonderful posts, great painting and fantastic choice of illustrations...

    1. Thank you Phil, appreciate the kind words! I'm actually hoping to make it down to France this summer, hopefully plotting a course through some of the August 1914 battle fields.

  5. An excellent article- nice painting and terrain backed up by a great knowledge of how the German army fought in the early stages of WWI.

    Do you think that they learned the British in the Boer War and came up with the “Exerzier-Reglement” doctrine? i know that they had Military observers there.

    One other thing, what rules are you using for the games?


    1. Thanks Darrell, really appreciate the kind comment. According to the tactical source book I'm using (Ardennes 1914 by Terence Zuber), they had based some of the 1906 upgrades on Fire tactics on the experiences learned by the British in the Boer War, so you're absolutely right!

      Rules; first off we'll probably be using an alternated version of Black Powder, encompassing off-board artillery, but eventually we'll be developing our own based on the 1870 rules we're developing at the moment! We'll be in need of people to play test the rules, so please if you're interested, let me know!

  6. Marvellous painting Sören! Your early war Germans are as gorgeous as ever. I've read about the German tactical doctrine for the early part of the war and it's nice to see someone giving it some thought actually how to represent it on the tabletop.

    1. Thanks M, really appreciate your kind comment! Like I mentioned to Darrell, we are actually looking into constructing a set of rules, based on company sized action (so full focus is on the individual Zug and the tactical placement of korporalshcafts. We'd love to send you a copy, and get your comments if you're interest?

  7. Great brushwork! I really like the idea of company level gaming in 28mm and think you have some good thoughts on how to represent the zugs the tabletop. Looking forward to see more! /Mattias

    1. Thanks a lot Mattias, that's nice to hear from a seasoned gamer like yourself.
      I'll get in touch once we have the finished set of rules. Perhaps I can lure you down to Solberga for a game then:0)

  8. Fantastic work on the Germans! I like the basing and composition of each stand. Looks suitably open order to me. Stand depth looks good too.

    Interesting bits of tactical doctrine and cool graphics.

    Well done!

    1. Cheers Jonathan, really appreciate the kind comment. The rules are shaping up nicely, but we're yet to actually do the practical game testing. But, I really like the larger format of units, and the zoomed in type of company-level game. Let's hope this rule "engine" will purr once we start her up on the actual gaming table.

  9. Superb figures and great basing :)

    1. Thanks Mike, your comment is really appreciated! I'm getting a new shipment of the excellent Mutton Chop WW1 Germans soon, so more "ZUG"s are coming up:0)

  10. Replies
    1. Thanks Jonas - finally got the first ZUG finished. The increased models per unit is felt at the work load on the painting table, but I think it is paid back when based up and displayed with all four bases.

  11. Nice painting, a good report and also a interessting topic and above all a good historical research.A very nice report indeed. Snyggt jobbat Sören. :)

    1. Thanks Peter, really appreciate it! I'm glad someone takes the time to read through my ramblings. It's been very interesting researching the German infantry of 1914. I had no idea that 60.000 Danish speaking troops were fighting at the Western Front under the Kaiser's flag.

  12. Very nice work with your figs black powder, my own are by britannia miniatures in 20mm, i have been looking for german early war companie org for ages, and it was a breath of fresh air finding your site with so much usefull information, a question though if i may, i plan on using through the mud and blood by toofatlardies, BUT it doesnt cover early war period too well, can you recomend a set of rules for upto battalion level early ww1, all the best.

  13. Hello what wargame rules are you using to fight WW1 1914 battles?
    Beautiful figures by the way.

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