At the outbreak of WWI, Army strength stood at 30,037 officers, 106,477 NCO’s, and 647,811 enlisted men(of which about 18,000 one year volunteers). The Army also maintained about 40,000 administrative personnel.

The Kaiser was Commander in Chief of all Imperial German Armies, except the Bavarian Army, which came under his control only in time of war.  All kingdoms and municipalities followed the lead of the Prussian Armies, with minor distinctive uniform designs and headgear helmet plate variations.  The Armies and units of states that had opposed Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, other than Bavaria, Saxony, and Wurttemburg, had been absorbed or annexed to Prussia.  Others more fortunate only signed over their military rights. All contingents, except Bavaria, were absorbed into the Prussian military machine.

Bavaria survived intact due to its close friendly ties with France, with whom Prussia was on good terms at that time and that careful balance could not be upset quite yet (until the Franco -Prussian war of 1870).

A typical 1914 Army corps (of which there were 24) was comprised of 2 infantry divisions, and 2 each artillery and cavalry divisions.  Each of these three types of divisions had two brigades of two regiments each, thus within an Army Corps there were 24 infantry Battalions, 20 cavalry squadrons, and 32 field artillery batteries.  In addition, each Corps had a Jaeger, pioneer, and train battalion, along with some other small detachments of support for their troops.

The peacetime infantry regiment (and Jaeger Batln.) had a machine gun company with 6 Heavy sled mount MG08 Maxim machine guns(HMG) and one spare.  In 1915/16, there was a need for additional firepower, so special supplementary machine gun sections consisting of 30-40 men with 3 or 4 guns were created.

These sections were attached as required to the infantry regiments, and in many cases were immediately absorbed to create a 2nd machine gun company per regiment, so that by the end of 1915, several regiments had two machine gun companies. During the winter of 1915-16, after initial successes of the machine gun on the battlefield, a new “Machine Gun Marksman Sections”(MGSS) were organized and trained to fully exploit the full potential of that weapon.  These men underwent a 4 to 5 week school that specialized in the use of the machine gun in an attack.  These newly formed 200 units were specially allotted to infantry regiments engaged in offensive maneuvers or holding very difficult sections of front line.  They were first used at Verdun in March, 1916.

In the beginning of 1916, the quantity of machine guns had increased from 1600 in peacetime to over 8,000.  Use of the weapon had designated it an extremely important instrument both in defense and attack. Machine gun production in 1916 rose to about 3000 per month, with a figure of 14,400 per month reached by Fall of 1917.  By July of 1916, over 11,000 machine guns were employed and would rise to 16,000 by the end of the year, a figure which included many captured enemy weapons.  September 1916 saw every infantry regiment with 3 machine gun companies of 6 guns each (1st, 2nd, 3rd), one for each battalion. The 2nd and 3rd MG companies were formed from all of the supplemental units on the field.  In addition, the MGSS sections were converted into companies identical to the other MG companies.  These companies were then organized into an MGSS detachment of 3 companies each, and acted as a reserve, usually for a Division engaged in active operations. They proudly wore on their left sleeve a metal badge of an MG08 heavy machine gun surrounded by a belt of cartridges.

By 1917, the number of guns per company was raised from 6 to 12. In addition, the new MG08/15 light machine gun (LMG) introduced in 1916, was issued to all infantry battalions. By the end of 1917, every infantry company on the Western front had received  3 LMG, and some with 6, the number intended per company. The units themselves provided personnel and training for these guns, thus no extra personnel were needed.

At the beginning of 1918, each active division was expected to have 3 LMG per company, 12 HMG per Battalion, and 36 HMG in a marksman detachment, for a total of 108 LMG, and 144 heavy MG. The total number of machine guns in use by January 1918 was an incredible 32,000 HMG, and 37,000 LMG.

The Maxim MG08 heavy machine gun had a sight limit of 2,200 yards, muzzle velocity of 2821 fps, extreme range of 4,400 yards, and could fire 400-500 rounds per minute.  The 250 round belt weighed 16 pounds and could be carried in single or double cans. Weight of entire gun assembled was 140 pounds with 7 pints of water.  The ammunition used was ordinary ball (S.), armor piercing (S.m.K) for use against tanks, loophole plates and tracer (L.S.) at 1 to 10 rounds.  Explosive bullets saw limited use against aircraft, but was not in widespread use, being almost entirely dropped by the end of the war as being ineffective as intended.

Issuing of the MG08/15 LMG, a scaled down shoulder fired version of the MG08 HMG design, began in March 1917 as a countermeasure to the .303 British Lewis LMG.  With great determination it can be fired by one man, but through experience and use, it is somewhat impractical, however, it did fill a slot for a much needed lighter assault type machine gun without a total redesign and tooling process.  It weighed 43 pounds with bipod and held 5 pints of water, and had all of the characteristics of the MG08 except in lighter form. Some internal parts are interchangeable with the MG08 for simplification of production. Although destined to take a side mounted spindle type magazine, it could also be used with all standard belts and boxes of the HMG.

Both the MG08/15 LMG and the MG08 HMG guns were of the usual high quality German craftsmanship, with all parts serial numbered to their respective guns, including all spare parts.  Both weapons required great skill and care to keep them in functioning order, and it was not unusual, after extensive initial front line use, to have only 2 out of every 3 guns in operation at any one time.  Barrel accuracy was about 10,000 round for ordinary ammo, even less for special ammo.  It was not unusual for a gun to go through 50,000 rounds during a major engagement, a usage that does extreme damage to the fine-tuned parts within the gun.

Spring of 1918 saw the introduction of a light 9mm submachinegun called the MP18 Bergmann, but only about 32,000 were produced, and they were issued out only to special assault teams, with their full potential never really studied or expanded upon before the war ended.



This information was complied mostly from government sources, but the one source that I must credit most is “Regimental Steins” by Major John L. Harrell, Ret., 1983. Long out of print, my copy is worn and falling apart from use. If you can obtain a copy – do so. His information in the beginning of the book is the best I have encountered on understanding the German soldier prior to WWI.  His information was most valuable to compile the story. I have told him this in person. Do not be fooled, the book covers more than just “German Steins” and I use it at least once a week for quick German Unit reference material.