After the disasters of 1944, and with enemies closing in on all sides, in September of that year Hitler ordered the creation of the Volkssturm, or ‘People’s Storm’. The Reich needed many more soldiers, and raising the Volkssturm would bring millions more men into the war, including the young and old, those with some disabilities and those who were in important reserved occupations. Many of these had prior experience in the Great War, but to make them an effective force they required training and proper equipment, and both were in very short supply. Their role was intended to be as defenders of their locality, handling an emergency situation until the regular army could relieve them, but in the last desperate months of the war they were sometimes used as normal infantry, a role which they could not have adequately played. In the end they had no real impact on the course of the war, yet many found themselves in actual combat, and many died, in the last frantic struggle to rescue the fatherland.
The Volkssturm was raised at very short notice, and there was never an official uniform for them apart from an armband, to be worn on the left arm. In fact they often trained and sometimes also fought in their own civilian clothes, and when uniform was issued it was whatever could be scrapped out of stores and other sources such as Party and police reserves. The same was true of weapons. German industry could not properly supply the regular army with their weapon requirements, so the Volkssturm had to make do with whatever could be collected from other sources, which meant they received all sorts of weapons, many antiquated or of foreign manufacture, which often meant there was very little ammunition available too. As a result, there was no typical or standard look for someone in the Volkssturm, so we will consider each of the eight poses in this set separately.
Starting with the top row, our first figure wears a peaked cap with fur trim, a military-style tunic, breeches and long boots, and so can consider himself relatively well clothed. These items may well have come from various sources, and might well not match in colour etc., but they are at least quite appropriate for the task at hand, and make the wearer feel more like a soldier. He has no kit apart from a belt with triple-ammunition pouches, and he holds a Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr, which was a very simple and cheap weapon designed for the Volkssturm to help meet the urgent need for weapons without depriving the regular army of their requirements. Next to this man is one holding the one weapon that was readily available at the time, the Panzerfaust. This single-shot anti-armour weapon was easy and quick to make, and so appeared in the kind of numbers that actually made a difference. Many were issued to the Volkssturm, and since it was relatively easy to use it was a good choice. This man is using his correctly, and has had the amazing good fortune to also be armed with an MP38 or MP40, which is slung on his back. Therefore he too can consider himself very fortunate in the equipment he has been given.
The kneeling man could almost be mistaken for a regular infantryman. His uniform looks like that of the regular Heer, although it may actually be a more motley collection, but unlike a regular he has no equipment except for an ammunition belt for the bolt-action rifle that he is using. This appears to have been sculpted as the classic Kar 98K, and some of these did find their way into Volkssturm hands, but as we said, all manner of other rifles would also be correct here. Lastly in this row is a man about to throw a grenade. The key features of his clothing are the short jacket and the old M1916 helmet with the lugs. The pose is good, although holding his weapon across his chest is more to do with ease of sculpting than a natural posture. That weapon looks like the Erma submachine gun, which was manufactured during the 1930s in Germany, mainly for export, but some examples were still to be found in 1944, so it is reasonable to find one in the possession of this man.
The second row begins with a particularly interesting figure. This man wears a peaked cap and long overcoat (which was sometimes the only item of uniform issued), and is struggling with a large machine gun that he appears to be firing from the hip. This is the famous MG 08/15, of Great War vintage, complete with its drum magazine and carrying strap. While it was designed with this sort of mobility in mind, by 1944 it had been completely superseded by better weapons, but when any weapon will do then something almost from a museum is good enough. It has the bipod, and this is not the best way to use this weapon, assuming he is actually firing it (his hand seems to be on the trigger), but under the circumstances seems quite reasonable in this set. Fortunately he also has another Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr slung on his back. Next is one of the poses that seem to be smaller and slimmer than the rest, and so presumably depicts the many youths called up to serve their country. On his shoulder he has what on him is a rather large rifle, but it is what he holds that is more interesting. In his left hand he has what looks like a Leuchtpistole ‘Z’ or Sturmpistole, which was a flare gun that could also fire grenades such as the one he has in his right hand. This also had a basic shoulder stock, as modelled on this figure, so is an unusual piece of kit for any figure, and while we do not know if these were ever issued to the Volkssturm, there seems no particular reason to think they were not.
There is one problem with the next figure – she’s a woman. The Volkssturm only ever recruited men, but of course women also played a part of the defence of the Reich, so Mars have stretched their remit a bit to include her. She wears a coat over a dress, carries a medical bag in her left hand (not visible in our photo) and a pistol in her right. While many of the figures here wear the Volkssturm armband, this woman has a red cross armband on her right arm. She is running and keeping her head down; an excellent pose for someone trying to bring aid to the soldiers while the battle still rages. Finally we have another man in a greatcoat, though this is open to reveal a fairly military-looking uniform of tunic, breeches and long boots. He has a bolt-action rifle on his back but holds a Volksmaschinenpistole, a cheap submachine gun modelled largely on the British Sten gun, and so basic but effective, making it another great choice for this set. He seems to have several magazines for this weapon stuffed into his coat pockets, but is clearly not using it at the moment. He wears a peaked cap, which in the army would suggest an officer, but here could mean almost anything, from a Party official to someone working on the state railways.
In short, the clothing here is all fine, and leaves plenty of scope for interpretation in the painting. So for example, the young man with the flare gun could be painted in Hitler Youth uniform, with suitable armband (which he already has), or in various Army, Luftwaffe or other colours with the armband overpainted as appropriate. Apart from the woman, four of the poses here have an armband on the upper or lower left arm, as the Volkssturm were supposed to have, and while that means three do not, it is quite likely that on occasion these might have been left off, so overall we can have no complaints about accuracy of clothing. Equally, all the weaponry is fine, although some of these figures are much better equipped than the average Volkssturmmann could hope for.
The sculpting here is very nice, with excellent detail that makes identifying weapons quite easy, and even stretches to the design on the Volkssturm and Hitler Youth armbands. Faces are very good too, hands are not bad, and the usual creases and folds in the clothing all looks natural. There is quite a lot of flash to be removed however, and we found in our review examples that sometimes some poses had been warped (perhaps removed from the mould before they were cool enough?). Clearly this has been a problem for Mars, since while our photos claim four or eight of each pose, in fact we found a couple of sprues with missing figures, and extra loose figures in other poses substituted, so while we got all the poses, the actual numbers of each may not be the same in every box.
So that is just about all there is to say about this collection of figures. This is the second set on the subject from Mars, and in all respects matches the quality of the first perfectly. We liked the variety of clothing and the (admittedly rather generous) array of weapons, and the poses are all great – the man carrying the MG 08/15 really looks like he is carrying a great weight, and the running woman is our pick of the bunch. We were also impressed with the sculpting, and pleased to see the inclusion of youths. Only eight poses cannot hope to portray such a diverse subject well, especially when one of them is not even technically part of the Volkssturm anyway, but these are really nice figures, and along with the first set make a very satisfying depiction of an often forgotten and somewhat tragic episode in a long and very tragic war.