By Phil Gardocki
The main purpose of the German Jager Divisions was to fight in adverse terrain where using smaller, coordinated units was deemed a better way to fight than employing the brute force offered by the standard infantry divisions. The Jäger divisions were more heavily equipped than a mountain division, but not as well-armed as a larger infantry division. In the early stages of the war, they were the interface divisions between the mountains and the plains. The Jägers (means “hunters” in German) relied on high degrees of training, and superior communications, as well as their not inconsiderable artillery support. In the middle stages of the war, as the standard infantry divisions were downsized, the Jäger model with two infantry regiments came to dominate the standard tables of organization, and, in 1943, in an attempt to boost morale, Hitler declared that all infantry divisions were now Jägers.
The 100th Jäger Division was formed in 1940 in the 17th Wherkreis, where it trained intensively until June of 1941.
The obvious differences between a Jäger and a standard infantry division were one less infantry regiment and a slightly lighter artillery park. Less obvious was the increase in signals troops. A Jäger division had a normal infantry division’s signals battalion, plus an additional full signal company at the regimental level. This increased the coordination between the regiments and the divisional artillery.
On the regimental level, there were other organizational differences. In addition to the standard infantry regiment antitank or artillery section assets, a Jäger regiment had a motorized antitank company and relied on its communications to coordinate all of these assets.
Paradoxically, a Jäger, or light, battalion was heavier than its line infantry counterpart. In addition to three companies of infantry, a Jäger battalion had two supporting companies of heavy weapons compared to only one for an infantry battalion. This provided ten 7.5cm guns and six 8.1cm mortars of support for every Jäger battalion, compared to only two 7.5cm guns and six 8.1 mortars for the standard infantry battalion.
When the 100th went to war, it was assigned the reinforced 369th Croat Jäger Regiment, which came with its own artillery battalion. Historically, it is uncertain if this battalion was reassigned to the division’s artillery regiment or not. Given the philosophy of devolving firepower to the lower levels, and language problems, it probably remained as a permanent asset of the 369th, split up among the various Croat Jäger battalions.
The 100th’s first action was with the 17th Army around Odessa, and thereafter it followed Army Group South’s advance across the Ukraine. In 1942, it was involved in the Second Battle of Kharkov, and eventually was used to subjugate Stalingrad. After participating in the bitter street fighting there, it was encircled along with the rest of the 6th Army and destroyed early in 1943.
A new 100th Jäger Division was created in Yugoslavia later in 1943, where it was used for counter insurgency operations there and in Albania. By the end of the winter of 1943–1944, it was transferred to the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in Army Group Center. The division took part in the withdrawal across Poland and ended the war in Czechoslovakia.
Equipment and Doctrine
The weapons used by the German infantry always involved close team work between the machineguns and the artillery. The machineguns would pin the enemy down, while the artillery would take them out. To facilitate this teamwork, artillery was placed at many levels in the organization so that there was always some artillery support at every level.
At the company level, there were the trench mortars. In 1939, these were mostly the feeble 5cm, which could throw a 1kg shell about 800 meters. By 1944, the heavier 8.1cm mortar was being issued to all infantry companies and it could throw a 3kg shell 2.4km.
Each Jäger battalion also had a heavy machinegun company. This was a deceptive name, as the heavy machinegun was the same as the light machineguns issued to the squads, but it also was equipped with six 8.1cm mortars, and two light infantry guns. In German artillery parlance, any caliber smaller than 15cm was classified as light, mediums were 15-17 cm, while heavy guns started at 20cm. These light infantry guns were 7.5cm L/12’s, L12 meaning the barrel length was 12 times the diameter. They were rapid fire, short ranged, direct fire weapons. They were very useful for removing enemy strong points and machinegun nests as well as breaking up massed attacks. All told, one of these companies could throw more ordnance, by weight, than the rest of the battalion combined.
At the regimental level there was also several support companies. Usually, this would be an antitank company with mostly 3.7cm and sometimes a few 5cm guns. As the war progressed and the enemy tanks got heavier, this weapon’s mix started leaning towards mostly 5cm with the odd 7.5cm antitank gun. There was also a heavy weapons company with more 7.5cm L/12’s and two 15cm L/12’s infantry cannons.
Of course, the real backbone of a division is its artillery regiment. For the normal German infantry division, this would consist of 36 × 10cm L/32 and 12 × 15cm guns. The German practice was to dedicate a specific artillery battalion to an Infantry or Jäger Regiment or Battalion that was expected to be involved in combat. As both caliber’s ranged about 14 km, and outranged their Russian counterparts by 5 or more km, German counter-battery fire was quite effective. Once enemy artillery was silenced, the artillery regiment was capable of throwing hundreds of tons of shells per hour onto a target.
The division had several supporting battalions. A reconnaissance battalion that was mostly motorized, with many heavy weapons, and engineering support. It was designed to outfight what it could not avoid. The bicycle battalion was used as a fast reaction force to reinforce beleaguered troops. A replacement battalion was provided for front line training experience. The antitank battalion was often the only 100% motorized element in an Infantry or Jäger division. Later in the war, this merged in function with the bicycle battalion to become the “Schnell”, or “Hurry Up” Battalion.