The men of Sturm (Assault) Battalion Rohr could make a
fair claim to being the “Elite” of frontline fighters of the German Army
(1914-1918). They were used in an Assault and Training role and were the seed
out of which the assault units which followed were created. At Verdun, on the Chemin des Dames, in the 1918
Offensives, the men of Rohr were always in the thick of the action. Usually
attached to other units they acted as examples, as advisors and as observers,
taking their experiences back to the Sturmbataillon where developing new
tactics and methods was the first order of the day.
I will add links to other SB Rohr related articles (A number are in the pipeline).
Wictor, author of “German Flamethrower Pioneers of World War I”, was kind
enough to provide the following brief history of the Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr). Tom is working on “Flamethrower
Troops of World War I: The Axis and Allied Powers”, which will be published by
Schiffer later this year.
Right: Unteroffizier Adolf Breuer of SB Rohr along with Infantrymen they trained in the Assault tactics developed by the battalion. To go to the page on Adof Breuer Click HERE
The 4. Sturm-Kompagnie was chosen to demonstrate the tactics of the S.B. to the Kaiser in August 1916. Adolf Breuer was decorated by the kaiser. His Iron Cross award document and a description of the assault can be seen HERE
On March 4 the War Ministry ordered the Eighth Army
Corps to establish the first formal Assault Detachment (Sturmabteilung) of the
German army. Based on the Wahn artillery range in the Rhineland, it was the
result of a suggestion made by infantry General Hans Emil Alexander Gaede,
commander of Army Detachment Gaede (Armee-Abteilung Gaede) in the Vosges mountains. General Gaede’s men had successfully
utilized steel shields when advancing, and Gaede and Colonel of Artillery Max
Bauer decided to apply the concept to field guns.
Under Bauer’s direction the firm built 20 3.7cm
assault cannons(Sturmkannone) fitted with large shields. These weapons would be
accompanied by assault pioneers who would clear the way of obstacles and allow
the guns to lay direct fire on strong points.
The Assault Detachment was commanded by Major Calsow
of Pioneer Battalion No. 18. One company of pioneers from Pioneer Replacement
Battalion No. 3, led by Hauptmann Paulich, was assigned to the new unit. A
second company under Hauptmann Franceson was transferred from Pioneer
Replacement Battalion No. 10. Volunteer artillerymen from several batteries on
the western front manned the assault cannons.
The two companies of assault pioneers were issued
portable steel shields and experimental steel helmets, which the combat
veterans among them criticized as too cumbersome for combat use. The Assault
Detachment trained at Wahn throughout April and May and was deployed to the
Loretto front to engage in a defensive battle.
On June 16 the Detachment suffered heavy casualties,
as the pioneers were deployed as line infantry, not assault troops, and the
assault cannons were used as light field pieces firing from the rear instead of
as the close-in weapons were were intended to be. They produced large muzzle
flashes that allowed the French to quickly spot them and respond with their own
artillery. The gun detachment lost 13 of its weapons, and the pioneers suffered
more than 50 percent casualties.
Major Calsow was relieved in August and the Assault
Detachment assigned to Army Detachment Gaede.
Hauptmann Willy Martin Rohr (Left) of the Guard Rifles
Battalion (Garde-Schützen-Bataillon) was given command of the Detachment on
September 8. Assault Detachment Rohr was assigned a machine-gun platoon armed
with two MG08 heavy machine guns, a trench-mortar platoon armed with four light
weapons, a gun battery armed with four modified Russian 7.62cm cannons
designated "infantry guns" (Infanterie Geschütze), and a flamethrower
platoon armed with six small flamethrowers (Kleif). Four heavy and two medium
spigot mortars (Ladungswerfern) and one grenade launcher (Granatenwerfer 16)
completed the arsenal.
Rohr’s goal was to create a unit that had elements of
every arm of the ground forces, in order to create new techniques for using the
weapons. Being pioneers, the men of the Detachment were already familiar with
the hand grenade, which Rohr deemed central to effective close-quarter
Assault Detachment Rohr saw its first action on
October 12, when the 2nd Assault Company attacked French positions at the
Schrätzmannle in the Vosges
Mountains. After six
large flamethrowers of the 3rd Guard Pioneer Battalion were fired, six squads
of assault pioneers attacked assigned sections of enemy trench, clearing them
with hand grenades while trench mortars and field guns silenced French
artillery and a machine gun. Infantrymen following behind the assault pioneers
consolidated the positions with shovels and sandbags. 4 Assault Pioniers were
killed in the action including Unteroffizier Friedrich Pöhler (seen left). For a link to the action see HERE.
The operation was so successful that Rohr used it as
the core of the training for the remainder of the Detachment. Beginning in
December he also began training infantry units in his assault tactics.
On December 22, the entire Assault Detachment was used
in combat for the first time, in cooperation with Reserve Jäger Battalion No.
8. The two units reclaimed positions lost at the Hartmannsweilerkopf and the
northern sector of the Jägertanne. Christmas Eve saw the Detachment experience
its first failure, when heavy fog and a lack of preparation and organization
prevented the assault pioneers from taking back the Hirzstein. Following
several more failed attempts between Christmas and the new year, Rohr undertook
systematic preparations for a large- scale attack modeled on the Schrätzmannle
Above: Men of the 4. Kompagnie after a succesful action. One of the men wears a French helmet and has a French machine gun, probably items captured in the action.
After extensive rehearsals in full-sized mockups of
the enemy trenches, the Assault Detachment led Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 188 and
Nr. 189 in an attack at the Hartmannsweilerkopf on January 10. As before,
trench mortars, artillery, and flamethrowers were used. German casualties were
light, and the objective was taken. The Assault Detachment returned to its
barracks in the Kaiserstuhl hills of Baden. At the order of General Gaede it began training
infantry units in Rohr’s tactics.
In February the Detachment was transferred to the
Fifth Army in preparation for the attack on Verdun. Prior to the commencement of the
battle on February 22, the Detachment was attached to the 6th Infantry Division
of the III Army Corps. Rohr’s men fought at the Azannes, through the Herbebois,
and at Fort Douaumont. One to four assault pioneers
were assigned to each infantry battalion as hand-grenade throwers, although at
Herbebois an entire Assault Company supported by all its weapons attacked the
French pillboxes ahead of the regular infantry. The heavy combat necessitated a
24-hour rest period at Ornes, after which the Detachment launched an
unsuccessful week-long attack from Hardaumont toward the Caillette Woods.
The Detachment returned to the Fifth Army in March and
was sent to Beuville. Here Rohr trained replacements for his own force and held
assault courses for infantry units. The Assault Detachment was never employed
as a whole during the Battle of Verdun but provided shock troops and weapons
squads to other units. When pressed by Crown Prince Wilhelm for reasons why the
Germans were not more successful, Haupt. Rohr stated that the various branches
of service lacked experience and did not cooperate well, and the men were
unfamiliar with the new close- combat weapons and tactics. In particular the
infantry had not been trained in the use of hand grenades and, not trusting the
weapons, simply threw them away by the thousands.
Left: A Pionier from SB Rohr in typical Stormtrooper uniform
As a result Rohr was given a mandate by the Crown
Prince to fully train the army in the use of the hand grenade and in the
principles of cooperation between the branches of service. An extensive
training field was established at Beuville, close to the village of Doncourt,
and the Assault Detachment was enlarged by the War Ministry so that it could
more effectively instruct other units. Two more pioneer assault companies were
raised; the machine-gun platoon was expanded into a full company armed with six
weapons; and a howitzer battery armed with four 10.5cm Krupp mountain guns
(Gebirgshaubitzen L/12) was added. On April 1 the Detachment became Assault
Battalion Rohr (Sturmbataillon Rohr).
The two new pioneer assault companies were formed with
men from Pioneer Replacement Battalion No. 7. Thereafter replacements for Assault
Battalion Rohr came from Pioneer Replacement Battalion No. 35, which proved
replacements for Pioneer Battalion No. 35, a poison-gas unit. Haupt. Rohr
created a fifth pioneer assault company by converting the battalion Pioneer
Park Company into a fully trained and armed assault formation. Each assault
company had a strength of 210 men. By the middle of 1916 the Battalion was
pioneer assault companies
At Beuville, the Battalion taught two-week courses in
The Fifth Army was the first to complete its training,
after which the remaining armies on the western front were instructed in the
new methods. In the winter of 1916-17, the armies on the eastern front were
trained, as were Austrian troops. A special detachment was sent to Bulgaria to
establish an assault battalion in the Bulgarian First Army, and then several
Turkish divisions were trained.
Rohr and his men felt that their primary function was
as a fighting unit; they agitated constantly for combat and took part in over
70 assaults in Verdun
in 1916. Although casualties incurred during most operations were generally
light, occasional heavy tolls resulted in the Battalion being replaced five
times over the course of the war.
In May the OHL ordered that each army on the western
front send two officers and four NCOs to Beuville to be trained in Rohr’s
tactics. On May 27 Rohr published “Instructions for the Employment of an
Assault Battalion,” a short manual which codified his methods.
Inspired by Rohr's successes, the War Ministry decided
to convert four Jäger battalions to assault battalions. In August officers and
NCOs of the Jäger battalions were dispatched to Beuville for training. After Romania
declared war on the Central Powers, three of the Jäger battalions were removed
from the program and sent to the Romanian front. Only Jäger Battalion No. 3 was
converted, becoming Jäger-(Assault-) Battalion No. 3 (Jäger- Sturm- Bataillon
In late 1916 the howitzer battery of Assault Battalion
Rohr was given the responsibility of training the Close-Combat Batteries
(Nahkampf-Batterie) and Infantry-gun Batteries assigned to the armies of the
western fronts. The howitzer battery also trained ordinary artillery batteries
and regularly tested new weapons and equipment.
General Erich Ludendorff visited the Crown Prince at
his headquarters at Montmedy in September, where he reviewed a company of
pioneers from Assault Battalion Rohr that served as the Prince’s honor guard. Having
been on the eastern front for the past two years, Ludendorff had never seen
troops outfitted in steel helmets, uniforms with leather elbow and knees
patches, and ankle boots with puttees. When he learned of Rohr’s new tactics,
Ludendorff decided that the Assault Battalion should serve as the model for all
German infantrymen. On October 23, he ordered that each army on the western
front create an assault battalion.
As a result Assault Battalion Rohr was re-designated
Assault Battalion No. 5 (Sturmbataillon Nr. 5) in December.
Above: Men of the 4th Kompagnie SB Rohr with a group of infantrymen they were training in assault methods.
By February the Germans had created 15 assault
battalions and two assault companies, all trained by Assault Battalion No. 5. On
February 7, the War Ministry renamed the battalion Assault Battalion No.
5(Rohr) (Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 [Rohr]) in honor of its commander.
On February 18, Crown Prince Wilhelm authorized the
men of the Battalion to wear a badge on their lower left sleeve, above the
cuff. It consisted of a crown above a “W,” both in white metal and attached to
an oval of field-gray cloth. Rohr’s men wore the badge despite the fact that it
was never approved by the Kaiser.
After the new infantry assault battalions had been
trained, Assault Battalion No. 5 (Rohr)
saw far more combat than in the previous year. Rohr’s men were also used
defensively more often than offensively, a role for which they were initially
unsuited due to their aggressive “stormtrooper spirit.”
Right: 2 stamps used by the SB Rohr, the first was used in the period when it was the only SB on the German Army, the second after the creation of the other SB's.
In the spring the Battalion detached two pioneer
companies to Assault Battalion No. 7 in support of an operation to recapture
Chemin des Dames. Assault Battalion No. 5 (Rohr) spent much of 1917 fighting on
the western front, particularly at Verdun.
One noteworthy battle took place on June 29, when the
1st Assault Company of the Battalion attacked French positions on Hill 304. The
company was strengthened with shock troops from the 2nd Assault Company, a
machine-gun platoon, a howitzer platoon, trench-mortar squads, and the
battalion’s flamethrower platoon. Rohr’s men rehearsed the assault daily for
three weeks, photographed by French reconnaissance aircraft. The assault was
aimed at eliminating a salient 1800 yards wide, held by only 40 dismounted
dragoons of the 24th Regiment. After an extensive bombardment, Rohr’s men
attacked at 6:30 P.M., led by three Kleif squads advancing at intervals of 20
The French fought back with rifles, a light machine
gun, and hand grenades, repulsing the first wave. After three and a half hours,
Rohr’s flamethrower squads and hand-grenade throwers had pushed the French 200
yards down the trench and killing or wounding half of them.
Making a last stand, the French threw grenades until
the Germans vacated the trench and gave up all the ground they had taken. Although
American news services reported that Assault Battalion No. 5 (Rohr) lost two
entire companies in the battle, German records showed only eight dead and three
On August 20 the French launched an offensive in Verdun, recapturing Morte
Homme and Hill 304 after a massive artillery barrage. Rohr’s Battalion fought
defensively for an entire week without respite.
In 1918 Assault Battalion No. 5 (Rohr) experienced
combat almost continuously, suffering its heaviest casualties of the war. In
preparation for the Peace Offensive, the battalion was divided into two
half-battalions (Halbbataillone) and assigned to two different infantry
Half-battalion Krafft was commanded by Hauptmann der
Reserve Krafft of Pioneer Battalion No. 7. It was attached to the 34th Infantry
Division in the first line of the heavily fortified village of Urvillers,
south of St. Quentin. Half-battalion Hoffmann, commanded by an officer of
Pioneer Battalion No. 10, was attached to the 50th Infantry Division north of
St. Quentin. The Howitzer Battery remained undivided and was deployed with
Before the Peace Offensive began on March 21,
Half-Battalion Hoffmann trained with Assault Tank Detachment 1
(Sturmpanzerkraftwagen- Abteilung 1) at Beuville. The crews of the five A7V
tanks doubled as assault troops who would dismount and fight with rifles, hand
grenades, and flamethrowers. The tanks themselves were too slow and cumbersome
to serve effectively with fast-moving shock troops.
The 5th Sturm Company of the S.B. Rohr took part in the first German Panzer assault seeHERE
Right: Unteroffizier Adolf Breuer of the 4th Kompagnie, he fought with SB Rohr at Verdun and on the Chemin des Dames. See HERE
On March 24, the two half battalions were reunited
under the command of Major Rohr. The Battalion was put at the disposal of the
9th Infantry Division and inserted as a unified whole, attacking in concert
with a reinforced Jäger battalion. Rohr’s men helped storm Montdidier with
Grenadier Regiment No. 9 and were sent to different hot spots on the front
covered by Army Hutier. After three weeks of combat the Battalion retired to
captured British billets near Nesle in order to train the Guard Cavalry Rifles
Schützen-Division) in assault tactics. Given a few
days rest back at its garrison, the Battalion was then dispatched to the First
Army and divided again, one half-battalion attached to the 1st Infantry
Division and the other to the Guard Cavalry Rifles Division.
Left: The Iron Cross 1st class certificate to Lt. d. Res. Alwin Zirkler
Fighting with these two divisions, the Battalion
suffered high casualties on July 15-16. It was then pulled out of the defensive
battles and inserted piecemeal with various divisions attacking through the
Argonne toward the Meuse. Following a short
rest period, Rohr’s men were ordered to train Austro-Hungarian divisions
brought to the western front. As the American offensives pushed further into
German-held territory, the Battalion was thrown at threatened positions, the
assault pioneers trucked in or forced to march when transportation was not
available. Soon it became apparent that the situation was hopeless, and Rohr’s
men resigned themselves to failure.
In mid-October the Battalion was withdrawn to the rear
area of the Fifth Army and remained there as a reserve. In the final days of
the war Rohr’s men served as the honor guard of the Kaiser's Supreme
Headquarters at Spa. Forty-eight hours after the Kaiser abdicated and fled to Holland, the OHL
delegated command of the battalion to the Soldiers’ Councils, apparently
fearing that Rohr’s men were experiencing a breakdown in discipline. Major Rohr
demanded and was granted the right to march his men back to Germany, but
only after the OHL removed a company’s worth of the best troops to serve as the
On the way home, the reduced Battalion undertook its
final mission and cleared the Herbestal train station of mutinous troops. After
this, desertions became so commonplace that by the time Rohr reached Schwelm
the only men remaining were the grooms who cared for the horses of the howitzer
battery and the machine-gun and trench-mortar companies. The horses were sold;
the proceeds given to the Workers’ and Soldiers’
Council of Schwelm; and Assault Battalion No. 5 (Rohr)
The volunteer company that remained in Spa to guard
the OHL travelled to Colberg, where it formed the core of Freikorps Hindenburg.
Major Rohr served with the Reichswehr Guard Rifles
Battalion in Lichterfelde and then became a staff officer in charge of supply
in Flensberg. After leaving the army he died in 1929.
During the war 624 men of Assault Battalion No. 5
(Rohr) were killed in action, died of wounds, accident, or disease, or went
of the information in this article was taken from Eberhard Graf von Schwerin,
"Das Sturmbataillon Rohr," in Das Ehrenbuch der Deutschen Pioniere,
edited by Paul Heinrici (Berlin: Verlag Tradition Wilhelm Rolf, 1931), pp.