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Sturm Battalion “Rohr”—A Partial History

Stosstruppen—The German Response

While the French General staff wasn’t listening to Capain Laffargue, there is a strong suspicion that the Germans were. Official accounts of the war reveal the genesis of a special German combat engineer assault unit in May 1915 that came under the command of Hauptmann (Captain) Willy Rohr on 8 August 1915. Organizing his new unit into numerous closely coordinated small groups armed with a higher than usual proportion of hand grenades and machine guns, they were drilled to advance in a series of short sprints from one shell crater to another. Instead of pressing forward in long lines shoulder to shoulder, Rohr’s men were taking advantage of the terrain for cover and concealment. Working extensively with artillery units, his engineer kept as close as possible behind a protective barrage that was precisely timed to creep forward as the troops advanced.

An important psychological factor was provided by Major Hermann Reddemann, an early proponent of the flamethrower. Reddemann is credited with naming Rohr’s assault groups “Stosstruppen” (storm troops), evoking the Germanic warriors of mythology.

From the French?

While w have uncovered no direct evidence that Rohr was using his French adversary’s pamphlet as a guide, many of Captain Laffargue’s principles were to be proven against his own countrymen by the new Sturmbattallon Rohr during the fall and winter of 1915-1916. Commanders of neighboring German units asked for, and got, training for their men in shock tactics. An observer from Die Oberste Heeresleitung (abb: OHL)(the German General staff) is reported to have enthusiastically recommended the idea to his superiors. This resulted in a directive from General Erich Von Falkynhayn, OHL Chief of staff, for selected unit leaders to report to Rohr for an intensive two week training course. They were then to go back to their commands and train their own men.

Founding of the Sturmabteilung and activities under Major Calsow

On orders from the high command, the storm detachment, the forerunner of Rohr’s Sturm-Bataillon, was enrolled on the fourth of March 1915 at the Wahn shooting range in Cologne. It was composed of two Pionier companies, which had been mobilized as reserves and an artillery detachment with 37mm assault cannons (mortars?). Major Calsow was placed in command of the Abteilung (detachment).

1. Kompagnie

The 1. Pionier Kompagnie, which came from Ersatz (replacement) Pionier-Battalion 10, was commanded by Captain Franceson. The 2. Pionier Kompagnie, which came from Ersatz Pionier-Bataillon 3, was commanded by Hauptman R. Paulisch. The artillery detachment was composed of volunteer officers and men who had reported to the commander of the divisions in the western front. The K.A. (?) was led by Captain Tillessen F.A. 34. Ordered as replacement troops E.A 83. All of the men of the officer corps of the two Pionier companies when the detachment was founded is no longer known. We only know that the 1. Kompagnie, which later, for many years, was led by Oberleutnant Siegfried Hoffmann, belonged to Leutnant R. Krakewitz who was killed on June 16, 1915 at Souchez. He was the first officer of the detachment killed in combat. The memory of him was special and not forgotten because he was the composer of the battalions parade marches.

2. Kompagnie

At that time the 2. Pionier-Kompagnie was commanded by fallen Leutnant R. Knoblauch. Besides the commander, the officer corps. of the artillery detachment consisted of: Oberleutnant von Malachowsky (4. G.F.A); Oberleutnant R. Wrede (F.A.3); Leutnant Modler (F.A. 20); Leutnant R. Baetz (F.A.4); and Leutnant Count von Schwerin {F.A. 60).

The battalion staff consisted of: detachment adjutant Offizierstellvertreter Lenz; Sergeant Major Nehrkorn (quartermaster) in charge of the commissary; reserve doctor Dr. Eisenbart, who 14 days earlier had been detached from reserve; Dr. Freiberger; the veterinarian Dr. Keye; the doctor's assistant (corpsman ?} Kreinz; the paymaster Hartmann and the quartermaster's non-commissioned officers and enlisted men.

As far as the Pionier companies were concerned, they were to serve as an armed shield. This was ordered by the army detachment commanded by Gaede in Vogesen which had had good results using armed shields. As for the artillery detachment, it was to be deployed according to the ideas of the famous Oberst Bauer (Oberste Heeresleitung) who had ordered the building of the special attack artillery by Krupp, in the ranks of the attacking infantry. It was then to be pushed forward as needed and could fire directly at pockets of (enemy) infantry that could not be readily targeted by the field artillery. In addition, these cannons could shoot rifle grenades that were attached to steel rods that were inserted in the muzzle of the piece and fired at a high angle (like a mortar).


In reality, the buildup of the detachment took an inordinately long time because not all of the front line officers could adapt to the new tactics of armed (infantry) shields and light cannons. In addition, the means could not be obtained because rapid movement in the zone of battle was not possible. During the time of the buildup, the Abteilung Stab and the 1. Kompagnie were in Wahn; the 2. Kompagnie in Porz; the artillery detachment in Zuedorf. On May 16, 1915 the departure occurred and the detachment was ordered to Douai in order to be placed in a defensive position in the Loretto heights. The sixth army was placed under the theater of Lochow which to the east of the village of Souchez had the position at Givenchy. Here for the first time, the artillery detachment was deployed to fire bombs (grenades) against the opposing infantry positions. Occasional shots of a single round by the artillery from the ranks of the infantry had the unfortunate result of a concentrated artillery barrage of counter battery fire being directed towards that position. For this reason, the artillery detachment was little loved by the infantry. The Pionier companies were employed to construct the wire defenses in front of the infantry lines.

This work could only be done at night. Half of the detachment was in position, the other half rested in villages behind the front (staff and Pionier companies in Billy-Montigny, the artillery detachment in Fouquieres). The advance led through Lens to Souchez and the pleasure spots of Souchez were most unpleasant and caused many losses. At this time, the detachment was re-enforced with a Landwehr Kompagnie Company, all old men, led by lieutenant R. Wegmann who took the place of officer Kiefer.

Another Move

After several unsuccessful attempts with the using the artillery in high angle fire, the detachment was ordered to a different sector towards the enemy on the heights of Vimy. What the Pionier companies undertook there escapes me. The artillery detachment built their trenches against attack. There the 37mm cannons were installed in deep dugouts from which they could be hauled out in event of attack and used as artillery. Yet before the dugouts were completed, the enemy launched a general offensive on the 16th of June and broke through the first lines of defense. The detachment was alerted and marched quickly backwards to the Vimy heights. Marching into the area, I was wounded near the castle of Vimy and the next night I was evacuated so I have no more firsthand knowledge of what took place, only the later reports. During the heavy bombardment of the Vimy heights, the 37mm cannons were quickly exposed and were for the most part not capable of returning fire. On the same afternoon, the Pionier companies were launched in a counterattack at Souchez and exhibited great bravery and suffered over 75% casualties. The 2. Kompagnie brought 39 men out of the fight out of approximately 180; and it was pretty much the same with the first Kompagnie. Leutnants Krakewitz and Knoblauch fell.

After this engagement, the detachment was withdrawn and later ordered to positions at Fampoux and Roeux. During the rest in Douai, there was an inspection by General Von Luchow. He evoked a smile from the soldiers.
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