On March 4th the War Ministry ordered the formation of the first formal Assault Detachment (Sturmabteilung) of the German Army. The Assault Detachments of pioneers saw combat on June 16th, deployed as line infantry rather than assault troops with assault cannons being used to provide supporting fire from the rear instead of in close-combat situations like intially planned. The detachment saw heavy casualties during the battle due to the large muzzle flashes from the cannons alerting French artillery of their position. The gun detachment lost 13 of its weapons with the pioneers suffering more than fifty percent casuaties.
Hauptmann Willy Martin Rohr (below) of the Guard Rifles Battalion was assigned command of the detachment on the 8th September. Under his supervision the unit was rearmed with the goal of creating a unit that included elements of all arms of the ground forces, creating new techniques and methods of using the weapons in combat. Rohr was a strong believer of the use of the hand grenade as a method of effective close-quarter fighting.
Assault Detachment Rohr saw its first action on the 12th October attacking French positions at Schrätzmannle in the Vosges Mountains. A combination of weapons such as hand grenades, trench mortars and field guns allowed the six squads of pioneers to clear sections of enemy trenches effectively only losing four men in the fighting. Due to the large success of the operation Rohr used it as the core of training for the remainder of the detachment. In early December he also began training infantry units in his devised assault tactics.
December 22nd marked the first use of the entire detachment in a combat role, fighting alongside the Reserve Jäger Battalion No. 8 in order to regain previously lost German positions within the northern sector of Jägertanne. Christmas Eve saw the detachments first real failure due to the arrival of heavy fog and poor preparation on the pioneers. This was followed by several further failed attempts between Christmas and New Year in trying to take back Hirzstein, as a result Rohr undertook new preparations for a large-scale attack modelled on the previous Schrätzmannle assault.
The Assault Detachment returned to its barracks in the Kaiserstuhl hills of Baden in early 1916 after receiving orders from Geneal Gaede to begin training infantry units in the assault tactics used by Rohr. In February the detachment was readied for deployment at the Battle of Verdun, where the detachment was divided into groups of one to four pioneers with each group then being assigned to an infantry battalion to fight as hand grenade specialists. The Assault detachment when split up provided shock troops and weapon squads for infantry units.
Rohr received a mandate from the Crown Prince to train the complete German Army in the use of hand grenades and in the principles of effective communication between the branches of service. At Beuville, close to the village of Doncourt, a training field was set up and the War Ministry also increased the Assault Detachment's size so it could be more effective in instructing infantry units.
Two new pioneer assault companies were formed with soldiers from Pioneer Replacement Bataillon No.7. Each assault company comprised of 210 men with each Battalion containing the following sections by mid 1916:
1 Battalion staff
5 Pioneer assault companies
1 Machine-gun company
1 Trench-mortar detachment
1 Flamethrower platoon
1 Howitzer battery
At Beuville, the Battalion taught two-week courses in assault tactics.
The Oberste Heeresleitung (Supreme High Command of the Germany Army) ordered in May that each army group on the Western Front would send two officers and four NCO's to Beuville to under go Rohr's training. On May 27th Rohr published a training manual on assault tactics entitled “Instructions for the Employment of an Assault Bataillon”.
In September General Erich Ludendorff visited the Crown Prince at his headquarters at Montmedy, after observing a company of pioneers from Assault Battaion Rohr serving as the Prince's Honour Guard. Lundendorff was impressed with Rohr's tactics and decided that the Assault Battalion should serve as the model for all German Infantrymen; later ordering that each army group on the Western Front must create an Assault Battalion. As a result Assault Bataillon Rohr was re-designated Assault Bataillon No. 5 (Sturmbataillon Nr. 5) in December.
By February fifthteen assault battalions and two assault companies had been created and trained by Assault Battalion No.5. On February 7th, Assault Bataillon No.5 (Rohr) was renamed Sturmbataillon Nr.5 (Rohr) in honour of its commander. Assault Bataillon No. 5 (Rohr) spent much of 1917 fighting on the western front, particularly at Verdun.
The 1st Assault company of the Battalion took part in the battle to take French positions on Hill 304 on June 29th. Rohr's Battalion managed to push the French back two hundred yards down the trench, killing and wounding half of them. On August 20th the French launched a counter-attacking offensive around Verdun, managing to recapture Morte Homme and Hill 304 after heavy artillery barages. Rohr's Battalion fought denfensively for a full week without respite.
Throughout 1918 Assault Bataillon No.5 (Rohr) was engaged in continuos fighting suffering its heaviest casualties of the war. The battalion was divided into two half-battalions (Halbbataillone) and assigned to separate infantry divisions in preparation for the Peace Offensive.
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 Half-Battalion Hoffmann.
Half-Battalion Hoffmann trained with Assault Tank Detachment 1 prior to the Peace Offensive. The tanks were too slow and cumbersome to work effectively with the fast-moving shock troops of the assault battalion. The two half-batallions were reunited under Rohr's command and the battalion saw further fighting before being pulled out to rest; they then begin training Austro-Hungarian divisions brought to the Western Front. In mid October the Battalion was withdrawn to serve as the reserve for the Fifth Army. In the final days of the war Rohr's men served as the honour guard of the Kaiser's Supreme Headquarters. Assault Battalion No.5 (Rohr) was dissolved after the Kaiser's abdication and the volunteer company that remained guarding the OHL travelled to Collberg, where it formed the core of the Freikorps Hindenburg.
About Our Unit
Our unit portrays WW1 German Pioneers serving on the Western Front during the First World War. At events we display a collection of original equipment and weapons that were used both in training and in frontline action by Pioneer troops throughout the war.
Please scroll down this page to find out more about the history of the unit we portray and for more images of our members at events.