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Special thanks to Matthias Hoffmann for providing information on the German Field Army in 1917.
The title of this video may appear like click bait, yet actually it is the short version of a document from the organization department of the German Army’s Generals Staff in July 1944.
The original title of the document was:
“VERGLEICH DES FELDHEERES 1917 MIT DEM FELDHEER 1944” which means “comparison of the field army in 1917 with the field army 1944”
So, this video is mainly a visualization of selected parts of the document with some additional information and context. The document has a quite interesting date, namely the 20th July 1944, which was the day of the best known attempted assassination of Hitler. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, after all the officers behind the assassination wanted prevent an unconditional surrender similar to 1918. And in their assumptions stable front-lines were an important foundation for any negotiations. (Müller, Klaus-Jürgen: 20. Juli 1944 – Der Entschluß zum Staatsstreich, in: Beiträge zum Widerstand 1933-1945, S. 5)
What is the Field Army?
Now, you probably want to know what is the difference between the Army and the Field Army? Well, the field army is the part of the Army that does most of the killing and dying, one could say the field army is out in the field. For some contrast, other parts of the army would be the Reserve Army (Ersatzheer) or the Occupation Army (Besatzungsheer).
So, since we got that covered let’s get started.
In terms of the front lines the Western Front in 1917 had a length of 650 km, whereas in 1944 it was 151 km, yet this only covered the invasion front not the coast lines.
The Italian the front was 450 km in 1917 and 281 km in 1944.
Yet, the huge difference was of course on the Eastern Front with 1700 km in the First World War vs 2720 km in 1944, whereas the later number does not include the front lines in Northern Finland and Norway.
In total the 1917 front length was 2800 km, whereas the 1944 front length was 3152 km.
Now, let’s look at the number of divisions next.
Number of Division
On the Western Front in 1917, there were 148 German divisions, whereas in 1944 there were 60 division of those 22 division were on the invasion front.
On the Italian Front there were 54 Austro-Hungarian divisions in World War 1, whereas in 1944 there were 22 German divisions and 1 foreign division, for a total auf 23 divisions.
On the Eastern Front in 1917 the Germans were probably not up to modern diversity regulations, but still a quite mixed composition with 82 German, 43 Austro-Hungarian, 3 Bulgarian and 4 Turkish division, in 1944 there were 128 German and 36 allied division. Thus in total of 132 and 164 divisions for the Eastern Front.
If we add all these numbers together we get 334 Division for 1917 and 247 division in 1944. Thus there is a total difference of 87 division. Additionally, you can clearly see that in World War 2, the Eastern Front was the most important frontline, whereas in the Great War it was the Western front.
Now, the total numbers of men in the field army are from December of the previous year, because in the document there are only the numbers given for December 1943 and the number for the First World War is missing, but thankfully someone provided proper sources for the First World War.
Now, the total number of men in the field Army in December 1916 were almost exactly 4.8 million (4 799 095), whereas in December 1943 it were about 4.3 million (4 270 000). Note that this difference is considerable smaller than the gap of 87 division, because these numbers only account for the manpower of the German Field Army and not their Allies.
Manpower per Front km
Now, since we have the total numbers of men and front lengths, let’s see how the many German soldiers were available for each front kilometer. Although note that the total numbers of men are from December 1916 and 1943, whereas the front lengths are from July of the following years. So this part is more about giving you a general idea on the situation than historical accuracy.
For final stages of the First World War there was a total front length of 2800 km, which had around 4.8 million men stationed there, whereas for the final stages of the Second World War there was total front of 3152 km with about 4.27 million men. Thus, we get 1714 men per km in World War I vs 1355 men in World War 2. (2759 per mi, 2180 per mile)
Note that these numbers are only for the German soldiers and don’t include the manpower of all Axis Forces in Europe, which had considerable more manpower in World War 1, thus the difference in men per front kilometer was even more significant.
Cut-Content: Battalion per Front km
A German infantry battalion of 1917 had a required strength of 750 men [NOTE: That before the number was 1050 before and changed to 850 in 1918.] (Nash, David: German Army Handbook April 1918, p 44) As a result about 2.3 infantry battalion per front kilometer.
Now, since a German infantry battalion of 1944 had a required strength of 700 men (708). (Keilig: Bl. 101 – V 64) This means a little less than 2 infantry battalions per front kilometer.
Vergleich des Feldheeres 1917 mit Feldheer 1944, Generalstab des Heeres Organisationsabteilung (I), in: Keilig, Wolf: Das Deutsche Heer 1939-1945; Bl. 201 / 1944-1 & 2
Inf. Div. 1944, Keilig, Wolf: Das Deutsche Heer 1939-1945: Bl. 101 – V 64
Müller, Klaus-Jürgen: 20. Juli 1944 – Der Entschluß zum Staatsstreich, in: Beiträge zum Widerstand 1933-1945, S. 5
Sanitätsbericht über das deutsche Heer im Weltkriege 1914/1918
Nash, David: German Army Handbook April 1918