The Imperial German Army:
Dr. G. Hughes
'Then came up the Guard Jaeger Battalion, 4th Jaeger, 65th Regt., Reserve Regt. 13...and... drove the fellows out of the position again.'
- Anon. German Officer, 7th Reserve Corps, killed in action on the Aisne, Sept. 1914 - History of the Great War, Ed. N. Flower, Vol. III (London, Waverley Press, 1917)
GERMAN JAGER BATTALIONS IN THE GREAT WAR 1914 ~ 1918
The Jagers of the Imperial German Army are sometimes an overlooked troop type, in favour of their more glamorous counterparts in the Prussian Guard, the dashing cavalry or stalwart infantry. Yet, these fast moving, sharpshooting, troops fought tenaciously on every front, from the mountainous passes of Macedonia to the bloody quagmire of Verdun. By the very nature of their duties and organisation, they were ideal light infantry. The following few suggestions on their structure, uniforms and battle experience may be useful for recreating these defiant units on the tabletop.
Traditionally, Jagers were, as their name suggests, formed from the hunters and woodsmen of the mountain regions of Germany and Austria. In keeping with this, the Imperial Germany Army recruited its Jagers from the same regions and from the same base; keeping their relevant skirmisher skills and a high sense of unit identity. Although the organisation of the Jagers changed during the mid-war period, for the first two years, they displayed distinct characteristics in formation. There were twenty-five Army Corps in the Imperial German Army, which included the elite Guard Corps and Bavaria's I-III Corps. The Jager battalions were attached to these individual Army Corps, to act as their specialist mobile 'light infantry' support. Jagers were originally intended to act as a concentrated mobile screen to protect and support Cavalry units but, as the war developed, so did their role.
Jager troops (and specialised machine-gun and Shutzen 'sharpshooter' battalions) wore standard German pattern uniform in a distinctive green-grey colour. Interestingly, Bavaria reinforced its independent nature by having their Jagers wear standard issue field-grey instead. The cuffs for Jager troops (and machine-gun units) were in the 'Swedish' style with no cuff-flap and with two buttons placed horizontally. The Prussian Guard Jagers wore the French cuff with three-pointed button-downed flap and distinctive 'Litzen' - squared-off lace loops - associated with elite Prussian units.
In keeping with other German units, Jager tunics had piping around their collars, the rear pleats, cuffs and shoulder-straps. To mark their status, Jager piping was of 'light green', whilst the regimental cipher or number on their shoulder straps was in red. The Prussian Guard Jager battalion did not have this, however, but had extra 'light green' piping along the bottom of their cuff. When the modified army tunic was introduced in early 1915, much of the uniform piping was removed and standardised. This tunic was soon replaced, in September, by an even cheaper version, the 'bluse', which had a simple collar, deep cuffs and a fly-front to conceal its buttons. Where the piping was retained on both of these tunics, the 'light green' of the Jager troops remained. In most active service units, including Jagers, a variation of these three tunic styles was worn at any given time.
Most Jager equipment was of standard infantry issue but some units appear to have adopted a number of specific modifications. These would include the wearing of puttees and mountain boots and the carrying of a 'mountaineering rucksack' rather than the standard calfskin knapsack. Traditionally, this would also include provision for the 'standard' huntsman's ration of wurst and pumpernickel (sausage and black rye bread), although it seems that only the latter was in good supply. Like their infantry counterparts, however, Jagers could still be distinguished from other units by the colour of their bayonet-knot ('troddel') which, for all Jager battalions, was green. However, unlike them, all Jagers were issued with the 'hirschfanger' (a sword- bayonet) instead of the normal infantry bayonet. This edged weapon, combined with the specific serrated sword-bayonet issued to pioneers, gave rise to the myth in the contemporary British press of 'hun frightfulness' . Yet, the most distinctive feature of the Jager infantry was their black leather shako (Saxon battalions wore a special pattern of similar shape), which was also issued to Shutzen and machine-gun troops. This was usually worn with a light green-grey service-cover, with battalion number stencilled in red on the front.
The Jager battalions were all distinguished by such numbers, dependent on their region of origin, for example: 1st East Prussian, 2nd Pommeranian, 3rd Brandenburg, 4th Magdeburg, 5th (1st) Silesian, 6th (2nd) Silesian, 7th Westphalian, 8th Rhenish, 9th Laurenburg, 10th Hanoverian, 11th Hessian, 12th (1st) Saxon, 13th (2nd) Saxon and 14th Mecklenburg. The Prussian Guard, frequently regarded as the forged steel of the Kaiser's Army, also had one Jager battalion. The Bavarian Army, which had considerable independence from the standard German Army structure, had their 1st and 2nd Jager battalions too. Prior to the outbreak of war, there were eighteen Jager battalions in total, which increased to thirty-six battalions upon mobilisation of their reservists.
ll of these battalions had four rifle companies, one machine-gun company and one cyclist company. The numbers and structure of these companies was the same as for other German infantry troops. In addition, the five German ski battalions were all under the Jager establishment, due to the fact that some Jager battalions had conducted annual mountain warfare training before 1914. These troops were sent to form the core of the one ski battalion based in Wurttemburg and the four battalions raised in Bavaria. The Wurttemburg ski battalion was formed from nine companies of specially trained troops from its own independent Jager unit. In Spring 1915, the first three ski battalions were concentrated together to create the 3rd Jager Regiment in the Alpine Corps.
In August 1916, the Jager battalions were increased in size with the inclusion of an extra machine- gun company and a Minenwerfer company. This company specialised in the use of trench mortars, which were more like small howitzers, being effectively wheeled rifled mortars. Also that year, the wider structural organisation of the Jagers changed, with battalions grouped into their own specific Jager regiments. By 1917, some Jager units were formed into three battalion regiments and concentrated into three specific Jager Divisions to fight in the Italian Campaign. At the same time, the Cyclist Jager companies were banded together into cyclist battalions.
As Jager battalions were attached to their respective Army Corps, they played important roles in every campaign theatre. During the Russian advance into East Prussia in August 1914, the 1st East Prussian Jager battalion fought in the holding action of Gumbinnen, a four day battle, that preceded the German retreat to Konigsberg. In the early days of the war in Belgium, Jager scouts, mainly in the Cyclist companies, were involved in numerous actions against the Belgian army. One such engagement came on Wednesday 12th August, on the same day that the Germans assaulted the town of Haelen. In a small village near Eghezee, an Uhlan squadron, with Jager cyclist scouts, was suddenly attacked by a force of Belgian troops. Although parties of bicycle mounted Jagers had sped into the village square just in time to alert them, the resting Uhlans were totally surprised. The Jager forward units had tried to delay the assault but, outnumbered, had instead retired back to the village, with the Belgians close behind. As the Belgians entered the town, the Jagers tried to muster an adequate defence and hold them off. However, finding themselves at a distinct disadvantage (the Uhlans had posted their horses out in the fields to graze) the cavalrymen, allegedly, panicked and ran. Bitterly, the Jagers had no choice but to follow. Behind them the Germans left horses, rifles, a wheeled machine-gun and forty of their dead. Later that evening, two battalions of Jagers provided support in the rather more courageous German cavalry assault on Haelen.
Another rather bizarre incident involving a Jager scout unit occurred only six days later. A small forward party of Jager cyclists was attacked by Lieutenant Henkart, a young 32 year-old Belgian Grenadier officer, who was their leading exponent of armoured car warfare. Henkart was out reconnoitring in his vehicle, with mounted machine-gun, between the villages of Jauche and Jodoigne when he came across the dismounted Jagers. A harsh but swift gun-battle ensued in which twelve Jagers were killed, leaving Lt Henkart free to continue his journey to Jodoigne. In the main, however, Jagers were best at pinning an enemy down - and keeping them there.
In more conventional campaigns, the Jagers proved their worth. At the battle of Mons, the 9th Laurenburg Jagers, at Nimy, and the 3rd Brandenburg Jagers, at Jemappes, tried to demoralise and whittle the British down by laying down accurate sniper fire. During the opening days of First Ypres, as the British II Corps attempted to advance up to the Estaires- Lorgies line, they were also held up by Jager units; sniping from hedgerows, sunken ditches, church towers and barn roofs. By Hallowe'en 1914, the battle for Gheluvelt, outside Ypres on the Menin road, was nearing its height. Here, an advance force of Jager troops left their positions at the Kruiseecke crossroads and launched themselves against the beleaguered remnants of the 2nd Welch Regiment. This battalion had been decimated in the fierce bombardment of the British positions and only two companies (130 men in total) had been left to hold their place in the line. When the Jagers attacked, with the infantry of the 54th Reserve Division in support, this number was down to just forty-five men, only twenty-three of which were unwounded. Whilst they held the Jagers off for a time, the 2nd Welch were eventually overwhelmed and thirty-seven of them were captured.
Elsewhere, the Prussian Guard Jagers fought a very hard campaign in Macedonia, where the Jager and Mountain troops looked very similar to their line infantry colleagues, as uniforms fell apart and were hastily repaired. The ski troops of the 3rd Jager regiment, attached to the Alpenkorps, saw much service in Italy and Serbia before being sent to the Western Front in 1916. Here, they fought in the horrendous battle of Verdun, when the tactic of using sharpshooting machine-gun companies trained in an attack was employed for the first time. All along the Western Front, Jager units were in the front line, from Ypres to the Somme. It was said that when Jager marksmen (and German snipers in general) were faced with assaults by British Highland regiments, one of their tactics was to aim for soldiers who had 'thin knees' as, supposedly, the majority would turn out to be officers!
In particular, the Alsace, Lorraine and Ardennes front-line was particularly suitable to the Jager way of fighting. As such, the Jager battalions saw much service in the heavily wooded mountain regions of the Ardennes and Vosges. During the Ardennes battle of Virton, in August 1914, the 8th Rhenish Jagers, 6th and 5th (both Siliesian Jager battalions), 13th/(2nd) Saxon Jagers were all involved in heavy scouting/skirmishing duties around Neufchateau, Tintngny, Etalle and Longwy, respectively. The Wurttemburg Jagers, and ski battalion, campaigned against the French in the Vosges until October 1916. Despite a brief spell of warfare in Transylvania, they found themselves transferred back to the Vosges frontier before being sent off to the Italian front.
In late 1917, the Jager Division fought at the battle of Monte Grappa, for the strategically vital mountain range by the river Piave. Here, the terrain on the lowest of its slopes was intensely wooded whilst the ground became more scrub-like and grassy as the summits were reached. The battle around this twelve-mile range for the defensive Grappa-Piave Line was bitter and hard-fought. The German Alpenkorps commander, General Krafft von Dellmensingen, had managed to capture the Feltre-Fonzaso road line, but further progress against Italian forward defences on the summit proved difficult. In mid-November, the Germans launched two assaults on this defence line, the second lasting for four to five days, with the best Austro-German troops at their disposal. The gains were limited (a foothold on the summit of Monte Tomba) and a further major assault was made by the Jager Division, amongst others, in mid-December. The fighting conditions were very hard indeed. Operations were conducted at a minimum altitude of 1500 metres and, at times, at minus 20 to 27 degrees. Entrenchments could not be dug, as at this height only a few inches of soil covered the bare rock, meaning that machine-gun posts and 'trenches' were in full view of the enemy. A subsequent counter-attack by the French Chasseurs d'Alpins against the Austrians successfully regained Monte Tomba; effectively ending the Austo-German offensive there.
Given their hardiness, initiative and marksmanship, Jagers became a noted elite by their enemy and their relative lack of numbers only reinforced their reputation. The above suggestions might make very engaging scenarios or campaigns; for example, Lt. Henkart's armoured car attack on the dismounted Jager squad on the Jouche-Jodoigne road, or the 9th Laurenburg Jagers attempting to secure the bridge at Nimy. The adaptability and resourcefulness of Jager troops during the Great War proved an invaluable asset and their unique appearance and character makes them an ideal choice for any gamer. Renegade's German Jagers give an excellent opportunity to field a platoon of these often -neglected marksmen and test them in endless skirmishes of your own devising - so long as you remember to pack some wurst and black rye bread in their knapsacks first, that is...
Suggested further reading:
The following are most useful works on the subject, and give excellent introductions to both German Jagers and the campaigns in which they fought:
- Fostern, D.S.V. & Marrion, R.J. - 'The German Army, 1914-1918 (Osprey, No.80, 1978)
- Mollo, A. - Army Uniforms of World War One (Blandford, 1977)
- Nash, D. - German Infantry, 1914-1918 (Almark, 1970)
- Thomas, N. & Babac, D. - Armies in the Balkans 1914-18 (Osprey, No.356, 2001)
- Wilks, J. & E. - British Army in Italy, 1917-1918 (Leo Cooper, 1998)