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Soldiers School

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German School of the Soldier                          
By Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Lützow, edited by Unteroffizier Jan Sabol

 ANTRETEN       (Fall in, not at attention)


 This is not a command, per se. The term more refers to the  "state of being formed up". One could say for example,  without using the formal commands, "Okay, everybody, head outside and antretenn." Or, auf Deutsch, "Jedermann, antreten drausen in fünf Minuten!" ("Everyone form up outside in five minutes!") Remember, the formal command to form up uses "Angetreten!" and is preceeded by the type of formation desired (ie. "Gruppe! In Linie zu einem Gliede -- Angetreten!") However, you are correct that when asked to form up using the word "antreten", the men can be at the "Rührt Euch" position. For example, every morning for Appell at 0700 Uhr, the men will automatically make their way outside and "antreten" at ease while waiting for their Kompaniechief.

 STILLGESTANDEN!      (Attention)


 Body rigid, heels together, and toes at slightly LESS than 45-degree angle of each other, hands with palms flat against upper thighs, elbows out slightly from the body, and eyes front.  Movement on this command is on the first syllable of "Still" and the feet should be coming together by the syllable "stand".

 An example of a formation with the soldiers at "Stillgestanden," the men are aligned abreast of their Gruppenführer, who is on the formation's right, hands down at their sides, palms flat against the upper thighs, and elbows slightly away from the body.  Feet are together at the heels, and toes at slightly LESS than 45-degree angles.                     Immediately behind the 1.Gruppe is the out line of the 2.Gruppe, who falls in directly behind.

 Important: when you speak of the right or the left of formation, you are speaking as if you are standing within the formation.  The officer or NCO giving commands must take this into consideration before executing movement. For example, if the NCO gives "Rechts Um!" it would be the formation's right in which he is commanding them to turn, not toward his right.

 ANGETRETEN!   (Fall in at a position of attention)


 For the Gruppe, this is actually proceeded by one of the following: "Gruppe -- In linie zu einem Gliede -- Angetreten!" - for a single LINE, men stand side by side

"Gruppe -- In linie zu zwei Gliedern -- Angetreten!" -  for two LINES, one line behind the other

"Gruppe -- In Reihe -- Angetreten!" - for a single ROW, men stand one behind the other

"Gruppe -- In Doppelreihe -- Angetreten!" - for a double ROW, front to back, one beside the other

"Gruppe -- In Marschkolonne -- Angetreten!" -- column of three ROWS, men stand front to back

The Gruppenführer (Squad Leader) establishes the right side of the formation and the rest fall in to his left or rear (depending on the formation) in a straight line.  The soldiers stand at "Stillgestanden."  The body is rigid, heels together, and toes at slightly LESS than 45-degree angle of each other, hands with palms flat against upper thighs, elbows out slightly from the body, and eyes front. 

 (Zug, Gruppe, etc...) - RICHT EUCH!          (Dress right dress)

risht OYch!  

While at attention, snap the head sharply to the right, and dress (align body and feet) off the Flügelmann (right marker) with short, sharp shuffles of the feet. The Flügelmann is the rightmost, front man, and he does not turn his head. (If there are men behind him, they do not turn their heads either). The Gruppenführer would only be the Flügelmann if the Zugführer (Platoon Leader) was calling the formation, otherwise it is always the front, right man.

When shuffling into position, move to the state known as Tuchfühlung (literally, cloth touching) where the cloth of your elbow is every so slightly touching the cloth of the man to your right. Do not press into the man beside you. DO NOT move your arms, or raise your hands, or make a fist. 1940s German drill does NOT use "elbow dressing" where the right arm is raised (this is post-war).

As soon as you are dressed off the Flügelmann, remain at the position of attention and keep the eyes to the right. Men in the second and third Linie (rank) must also be able to move their eyes to the man in front of them and align their body with his. Await the "Augen  -- Geradeaus!" command.

 AUGEN  -- GERADEAUS!     (Ready,   front)

OW-gen ge-rah-deh - OWS!  

From the eyes right position, sharply bring the head forward.

 RÜHRT EUCH!         (At ease)

Rooehrt oych!  

At the command, the feet are moved to shoulder width apart, left foot slightly forward of the right, rest weight on the right leg, arms hanging down to the sides with hands relaxed. Speak only if permission is given.

 RECHTS  --  UM!         (Right face)

Reschts   --   um!  

Rotate to the right by turning on the right heel while turning and pushing to the right with the ball of the left foot.  After facing is completed, bring left foot in line with the right, assuming the position of attention. Do not leave a pause between the turn and the bringing forward of the foot, rather executing them as a single movement, one flowing directly into the other.

 LINKS   --   UM!               (Left face)

links -- um!  

Rotate to the left by turning on the left heel with the ball of the right foot. After the facing movement is completed, bring the right foot in line with the left, assuming the position of attention. Do not leave a pause between the turn and the bringing forward of the foot, rather executing them as a single movement, one flowing directly into the other.

 KEHRT  --  UM!    (About  face)

kayert  --  um!  

This command is for the individual soldier only. It is used for practice, or for small formations such as an Ehrenwach (honor guard) and such. When turning around a formation from Gruppe to Kompanie, use the "Ganze Abteilung -- Kehrt!" command instead
At the command, rotate to the left by turning on the left heel with the ball of the right foot 180 degrees. After the facing movement is completed, bring the right foot in line with the left, assuming the position of attention (basically a left face, but all the around).

 WEGTRETEN!                                    (Fall out)


The informal equivalent of "Antreten", and not a command. Not to be confused with the formal "Weggetreten" command.
For the parade square, use the formal "Weggetreten" command as follows:
"Gruppe -- Nach links  -- Weggetreten!" (Group -- To the left -- Dismissed!) which would consist of a turn to the left, three steps in step, then a break up of the formation. This command could be proceeded with "Nach rechts" (to the right) or "Nach rückwärts" (to the rear) as needed. Can also be used with rifles at "Gewehr ab" but never at "Gewehr über".

 AUGEN -- RECHTS!               (Eyes right)

OW-gen  -- Reschts!  

At the command, the head and eyes snap to the right without moving the body.  Hold this position until ordered to "front." 
If the eyes are to be moved right for an inspection, the command is "Zur Meldung -- Augen -- Rechts!" at which point everyone, INCLUDING the Flügelmanner, turn their eyes to the right. As the inspecting officer approaches, each man keeps his "nose on the man" by following the passing of the officer with his head. When the officer is directly in front of each man, that man counts five more steps from the officer before he snaps his head to the front. This is only for inspection. Otherwise, "Augen -- Rechts" position is held until "Augen -- Geradeaus" is given.

 Die AUGEN --  LINKS!   (Eyes  left)

dee OW-gen --  links!  

Same as for "Augen, rechts" except to the left.

   (Zug, Gruppe, etc...) - MARSCH!          (Platoon,  Squad, etc..., march)

...   - marsh!  

This command needs to be proceeded with one of two commands:
"Gruppe -- Im Gleichschritt -- Marsch!" (Group -- In step -- March!) "Gruppe -- Ohne Tritt -- Marsch" (Group -- Without step -- March!)
At the Gruppe level, Reihe and Doppelreihe are usually without step.Marschkolonne is usually in step.
At the command, the soldier steps off with the left foot, taking a full step.  Note that hands must be flat, and swung up to the belt buckle, then naturally allowed to fall back. German marching steps are long at 80cm (32 inches) at the cadence is 114 steps per minute. The Abstand (front to back spacing) is also 80cm between men.

 OHNE TRITT - MARSCH!                (Route   step, march)

    Ohneh trit - marsh!  

Already covered above in Marsch!, since it is one of two types of marching.. This command is used when terrain is encountered that is impractical for marching in step.

 IM LAUFSCHRITT -  MARSCH!                 (Double-time,  march)

    Im lauf-shritt - marsh!  

March at twice the speed.

 (Zug, Gruppe, etc...) - HALT!              (Platoon, Squad, etc..., halt)

...  - halt!  

The halt is ALWAYS called on the right foot, and there is ALWAYS just one more step with the left foot before bringing the now trailing right into line.

 RECHTS  --  UM!                                    (Right turn)

Reschts  -- um!  

This same command, when used during the march, is called on the foot of the direction to be turned. (ie. if the man is to turn right, the "Rechts" command is given on the right foot). Several more steps may be taken (usually three to five, but could be more), before the execution command is given on the same foot, after which one more step is taken before the turn as shown in the drawing.

 LINKS  --  UM!                                   (Left turn)

links  --  um!  

See description above for details.


Heer Schützengruppe

The core of the German Wehrmacht was Infantry, ground-pounders. Unfortunately for Hitler, all were not driving or riding in Panzers. Nearly 90% of the army was Infantry-type units. Most of these were not mechanized; they moved on foot and relied on horses to move supplies and equipment.

The German Military, reviewing the lessons of WW1, determined that the Machine Gun (MG), not the rifle, was the primary killing weapon on the battlefield. Additionally, German strategists believed a MG gunner would only have seconds to engage exposed enemy infantry before they naturally took cover. Therefore, the military establishment focused on a military unit that would operate effectively as a large MG Team. And German Weapon Designers, rather than improving the individual soldier’s infantry rifle, developed a post-WW1 MG (MG34) with high rates of fire, enabling even the shortest burst to unleash a hail of fire.

Between the two world wars, the Army developed a "Gruppe" or Rifle Squad organized around a single MG34 that could be carried and fired by one man, usually the best men in the unit. Each Squad was comprised of an NCO, a five-to-seven man rifle element and a three or four man MG Team. Squad organization was made with the following tactical concepts in mind:

1)       It would require the entire squad of Riflemen, supported by their MG, to successfully assault and destroy an enemy position.

2)       The Squad's MG would be under the direct control of the Squad Leader who could control its fire in direct accordance with his plans, and that the MG would be crewed sufficient in size to keep it supplied with ammunition as well as provide local security (3-4 men).

3)       The Riflemen, under the control of the Assistant Squad Leader (following the Squad Leaders' plan of attack) would be a sufficient force to assault and hold the objective of the Squad's attack after sustaining losses, and following that, provide ample covering fire for the Squad Leader and the MG team to change its base-of-fire position if tactical circumstances required.

German doctrine held that Squads must be able to function effectively in the confusion and fog of war. This required outstanding infantry training. In addition to standard maneuver and tactics courses, each NCO (corporal or sergeant) received six month's special leadership training, and each enlisted soldier was trained the responsibilities two ranks above his own. A private was trained to take command of a squad when necessary, and a sergeant was trained to command a platoon or even company if needed. German infantry training stressed independent thinking for all soldiers; consequently successful, pioneering action was within the capability of any German group no matter the size or who was in command. This was also one reason why German units could suffer enormous casualties and still perform.



A Squad consisted of ten men…

During the Polish campaign, squads consisted of 12/13 men. After reviewing combat performance, this organization was deemed to unwieldy to operate effectively, so squads were organized as 10 man units.


Squad Leader (Gruppenfuhrer)

Rank: Unterfeldwebel (or other NCO)

Special Equipment: Machine Pistol, Binoculars, Map Case and maps.


The Squad Leader was armed with a Machine Pistol (MP38 or MP40), before 1940 he carried a rifle. His training decreed that during combat he be in the center of the squad as well as the focus of discipline and responsible for frugal use of resources when quick re-supply was unlikely. It was his choice to direct the MG Team or lead the riflemen in assault during fire missions. If he proved himself a fine leader and example on good and bad days, then the Squad was good; if he was not, then his men usually failed as well.


Assistant Squad Leader

Rank: Obergefreiter (or NCO)

Special Equipment: Rifle or Machine Pistol


The Assistant Squad Leader’s responsibilities were to lead the rifleman in positional assaults while the Squad Leader directed the MG Team’s suppressive fire. During important or especially difficult assaults, he may be required to direct the MG Team’s fire while the Squad Leader led the assault. His primary responsibility and training was to replace the Squad Leader if he fell.


MG Gunner


Rank: Schutze (Grenadier after 1942)

Special Equipment: MG34, P08 pistol, machine gun tool kit, 50 round belt, spare parts and cleaning tools. 


The Gunner of the group was its best soldier. He carried and operated the light machine gun (MG34, later MG42) and a 50 round belt. The Gunner fired offensively and defensively with the MG supported on a bi-pod. During an attack or penetration, with the bi-pod folded up, he fired the MG from the hip.


Assistant Gunner

Rank: Schutze  (Grenadier after 1942)

Special Equipment: P08 pistol, 50 round ammo drums and/or 300 round ammo box, spare barrels, and barrel protector,  


The Assistant Gunner supported the Gunner by supplying ammunition, changing a barrel or breach, and by removing hindrances. If the Gunner fell, he took the firing position behind the gun himself.


Ammunition Carrier


Rank: Schutze (Grenadier after 1942)

Special Equipment: KAR98k rifle, Two 300 round ammo boxes.  


The Ammunition Carrier carted surplus ammunition to replenish the Assistant Gunner’s supply.  He was armed with a rifle and provided protection for the Gunner and Assistant. As the strength of the squad decreased, the role of the Ammunition Carrier was eliminated. Ammunition boxes were then divided among the squad and were carried by individual soldiers in turn.




Rank: Schutze (Grenadier after 1942)

Special Equipment: KAR98k rifle and 2-3 Stick Grenades. 


The remaining Riflemen's main responsibility was to protect the MG and participate in positional assaults using grenades. Rifleman rarely used their rifles unless covering fire was required when repositioning the MG Team. When needed, they hauled additional MG ammunition.


During the course of the war, casualties reduced Squad sizes to five or six men. The Squad Leader was sometimes an experienced Obergefreiter or a hardened Gefreiter.  In some cases, a second Machine Gun was added to supplement the firepower in depleted Squads.


Schützengruppe Tactics

The Rifle and MG Teams did not operate as separate units rather as a cohesive unit, though men were often firing at will. Victory was predicated on concentrating the most fire on target quickly. Fire discipline was required. Men were expected hold fire until large targets were within 600 meters and individual targets were with 400 meters.

Gruppe leaders were given “mission” orders that stated what had to be done but not how to do it. Commanders were always given the discretion to decide when, where and how to meet the enemy, however, they were often cautioned not to fire the MG until forced to do so by enemy fire. The MG was indeed a terrible ammunition hog for its high rate of fire. Although criticized for its high rate of fire and resulting inaccuracy, tales from history tell that the suppressive value more than made up for it. It could deliver a withering amount of fire to break massed frontal assaults by infantry.

Battlefield Formations


The German squad had two main formations while moving on the battlefield. When advancing in the Schützenreihe, or single file formation, the Squad Leader took the lead, followed by the machine gunner and his assistants, then riflemen, with the Assistant Squad Leader moving on the rear. The MG could be deployed while the rest of the squad held back. In most cases, the soldiers took advantage of the terrain, keeping behind contours and cover.

Upon enemy contact, a Schützenreihe could easily be formed into Schützenkette, or skirmish line. The MG deployed on the spot, while riflemen came up on the right, left or both sides. Bunching up around the MG is forbidden. Forward movement by the squad is limited to short moves only. The squad leader has no specific place in the open order: normally he is at the head of his men, but may be farther removed to scout or liaison. The result was a ragged line with men about five paces apart, taking cover whenever available. The skirmish line could be used to present defensive fire or mount a fire mission on enemy positions.

Fire Mission

When assaulting enemy positions, the Squad executed fire and movement. The entire Squad would leapfrog forward using terrain for cover in short rushes; the MG Team providing suppressive fire for the riflemen while they maneuvered and vice versa until a desired effect was achieved or a final assault was needed. This use of fire and movement coupled with the use of cover and concealment maximized the chances of a successful attack and minimized the potential for losses. The object of the firefight was to not necessarily to destroy the enemy, but Niederkampfen - to beat down, silence, or neutralize them. In the circumstances of determined resistance, a final assault was required. The MG Team would take up a stationary position. The Squad Leader would direct the MG fire himself, providing fire on the enemy position in an attempt to achieve "fire superiority”, ideally at a right angle to the point from which the riflemen planned to launch their assault.  The Assistant Squad Leader led the riflemen using cover and concealment to reach a position to assault an enemy position from its flank. With the MG providing suppression fire, the riflemen went in to clean up with hand-grenades, bayonet, and entrenching tool.

Post Assault

Having taken an enemy position, the Squad could not relax. They needed to regroup, prepare for possible counter-attack or artillery bombardment, tend their wounded and escort any prisoners they may have taken to the rear. Ammunition supply needed to be account for and redistributed, the MG being a prime recipient.


The Gruppe was expected to dig-in in an area of 30 to 40 meters. This was the maximum that a Squad Leader could effectively oversee. Cover such as single trees and crests were thought to attract enemy fire and were rarely used. While digging, one member of the squad was to stand sentry. The location of the MG was a key to the Squad defenses. Riflemen were grouped in twos or threes, deployed in foxholes or trenches and positioned to cover the flanks of the MG Team. Defensive positions would be slightly separated, decreasing the effect of enemy fire. Any defensive firefight was conducted by the MG at an effective range while riflemen were concealed in their foxholes until the enemy assault.



  • Infantry Aces: The German Soldier in Combat in WWII, Franz Kurowski.
  •, Website forums, various authors.
  • TM-E 30-451 Handbook on German Military Forces, 1 Sept 1943, Military Intelligence Division - War Department.
  • The German Squad in Combat, Special Series No. 9, 25 Jan 1943, Military Intelligence Service - War Department.




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