Sunday, 19 July 2015

The History of elite unit Großdeutschland - part 1

Two Zundapp MC's blazing eastward during Barbarossa.
Minis are 15's from Skytrex.

As summer is reaching an untelling apex here in Stockholm with temperatures refusing to go beyond 20 Celsius, I find my way back to the painting table and the blogger-sphere. The much needed break was used primarily to follow the surprising drama in the early stages of this year’s Tour de France (cycling being another big passion of mine).

MC recon unit taking a well-deserved smoking break.
Also, I've been developing plans for what will be a 1.5 x 3 meters gaming table, specifically decorated in a French countryside style, aimed at offering a frame for wargaming battles in the period of 1870-1914 - more about that later. On with the Barbarossa project and the most recent addition. This week I’m adding a Zundapp Aufklärung (MC Recon) unit to my collection, setting a visual backdrop to part 1 of 6 of my blog post series on the German elite unit, Großdeutschland.

Another view at the Zundapps.
They are based on standard FoW small bases.


The History of elite unit Großdeutschland part 1: The unit’s origins

When the dust settles after a great struggle, and time applies conciliation and perspective, some of the names from the fight still live on. Whether in fame or infamy, they become linked with a specific battle, a certain glorious charge or perhaps stained with the disgrace of defeat or war crimes. The unit’s name echoes up through history, with a promise of relevance and immediacy for a particular moment in human history. 

The Wachtruppe Berlin (Berlin Guard) on one of it's frequent 
parades through central Berlin.

Reading up on Operation Barbarossa and the German units participating in the horrific fighting on the Eastern Front 1941-45, one name emerged more clearly than the others, Großdeutschland. This unit, consisting of the very best troops drafted from all over Germany, had the very DNA of Blitzkrieg in their bones, as they were formed partly by the drill-unit from the Infantry School at Döberitz, used to develop the innovative German tactics before the war. Their merits fast made them the favourite of Guderian, and they saw almost constant action until they were all but annihilated in 45, as the German army disintegrated under the overwhelming pressure of the Allies.

Heinz Guderian - the father of Blitzkrieg.

In order to trace the unit’s roots, we travel back to the days just after the First World War, during the turbulent Weimar Republic. In Berlin, rioting and public disorder was not uncommon, and it was thought prudent to form an official Guard Troop for the city. This Guard Troop, named the “Wachtregiment Berlin”, mainly consisted of ex-Freikorps soldiers, many of whom were war veterans, looking for a brawl with communists or, ironically perhaps, believing in an imminent Polish invasion of Germany. The Wachtregiment formed a simple but important duty, namely of twice a week marching with colors flying and band playing, through the Brandenburg Tor and down to the war memorial, in a deifying manner, significant for what was brewing in a post-war defeated Germany.

Early postcard showing the Döbertiz Infantry School.

When Hitler came to power in 1934, the regiment was expanded to eight companies with an integrated unit HQ. Newly drafted troops now came mainly from the Wehrmacht’s ranks, recruiting only the tallest and most skilled soldiers from across Germany, which resulted in almost all troopers being over 6 feet tall. (Perhaps a historic hint to the King Fredrick William’s Tall Grenadier Guard). 

Hans Valentin Hube.
The author of the German Infantry drill book, "Der Infanterist"

Meanwhile at the Army Infantry School outside Döberitz, Oberst Hans Valentin Hube, was working on the innovative new Blitzkrieg tactics, a drill project that would result in the publication of his book; the standard German Army infantry tactical drill manual “Der Infanterist”. Paired with the innovations of Guderian on armoured tactics, the fruit of Hube’s work would become evident in the early campaigns of WW2, with Poland and France completely overwhelmed by the rapidity and mobility of this new style of warfare.

Blitzkrieg was all about mobility,
something the Zundapps offered in abundance.

At Döberitz Hube had worked in close accord with a particular well-drilled infantry unit, which now formed the nucleus of the Blitzkrieg tactical DNA. In 1939, the larger part of this unit was merged with the Wachtregiment Berlin, to form an all new elite infantry regiment of four battalions. In an official ceremony at Moabit barrack’s, the regiment was awarded it’s name – Infanterie Regiment Großdeutschland (IRGD).

The Führer-begleit-Battalion (Führer Escort).
Troops from IRGD was handpicked for this unit.

The clouds of war were gathering on the horizon, and the newly formed IRGD was sent to undergo rigorous training, preparing them for what was to come. As international relations deteriorated, the unit had caught the eye of the Führer, and a small contingent was extracted from IRGD to form an armed escort troop for Hitler, named the “Führer-Begleit-Kommando”. 

Next part – Blitzkrieg, the fall of Poland and France.

Thank you very much for reading!


  1. Fantastic work on the Zündapps. Need some for my Blitzkrieg project too. Entertaining read on the GD. Looking forward to further stories.

    1. Thanks for stopping by for a read and a comment M, appreciate it!

  2. These Zundapps are very nice, as is the historical background (and choice of photos) as always...great post!

    1. Cheers Phil, yeah its always pleasant to find some of the colored images from the period, they do add some extra dimension to the visualization. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Once again great painting Soren, and choice of colours on these Germans and a good historical background too!

    1. Thank you Chris, finding the right tools/colors is half the job done for me. Glad you liked the color scheme I went with!

  4. Outstanding quality work, difficult to believe that they are 15mm.

    1. Thanks Michael, I really appreciate it! The Skytrex minis are great sculpts, with a level of detail that paints up really well, even with washes and highlighting.

  5. Great write up and history of the GD! Thank you! The Motorcycles look great. We are going to have a very diverse force of Germans with your early war and my late war Germans. I look forward to seeing the GD troops on the table soon!

    1. Thanks Mark, I really look forward to some good games - and like you said, we're not short on scenario options with this versatile collection. I know Jesper is painting up Russian in summer uniforms, and Ulf have the winter stuff. We're in for some good gaming!

  6. Nice looking unit and really great historical background info!


    1. Cheers Chris, thanks for taking out the time to give it a read. Appreciate it!

  7. Beautiful bikes! You are really good at finding great pictures to go with your interesting texts. /Mattias

    1. Thanks Mattias - glad you liked the post. Wanted to try something new, and string together several posts in a unit portrait!

  8. Your painting is always spot on! The recon elements are very well execute. Handsome 15s, for sure! The accompanying history bios are always so interesting. Makes me want to get a few 15mm WWII figures either onto the painting desk or into a game.

    Great work!

    1. Thanks Jon, you should - I mean, you have so much experience in painting 15's, so I don't need to tell about all the upsides. For me, this was a case of the well proven method of tapping into an already existing collection at our local club. I can focus exclusively on what I really wanted to do, as both Germans and Russians already exist in playable sized armies. Luxury indeed :0)

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