As with any Army the weaponry deployed on the battlefield is a key element to any successful campaign. Likewise the field maintenance of these arms is equally an important component to that element. In the German Wehrmacht that role was bestowed to the Waffenmeister (Arms-Master meaning Armour) and his team of Armourers. Charged with the day to day duties of organising, cataloguing, inspection, distribution, maintenance and servicing and running the forward repair shops there was never a dull or quiet moment for the Waffenmeister!
In a typically German manner every weapon was catalogued with a unique
serial number that was recorded on itemised lists giving the combat units
exact calculations on strengths and deployments. Even the Soldier himself
would have the serial number of the weapon issued to him recorded in
his own pay book and be responsible for the general care and maintenance
of the weapon and heaven help him if he lost it in battle!
However there were times when firing pins broke or components of the weapon stopped functioning altogether that then required the services of the Waffenmeister’s armourers to inspect the weapon and make the necessary repairs.
These repairs would often take place in forward machine shops usually
being an Opel type medium troop truck (Wffm. Werkst. Kw.) that had been
converted with the addition of rear cab workshop fully equipped with
a lathe, drilling, cutting and milling equipment along with all manner
of hand tools and specialist equipment able to deal with most day to
day problems that might arise. If weapons were battle damaged beyond
repair they might often be cannibalised for spare parts or if too complicated
for a field repair they could be sent back to service centres such as
the “Heeres Zeug Amt” depot for a complete refurbishment
or even back to the original manufacturer if the weapon was being withdrawn
from service or too complex to deal with, however the general principle
was to repair as quickly as possible and return the weapon back to the
front line where it was always desperately needed.
Waffenmiester’s were also to be found assigned to various factories as inspectors of quality control to ensure all parts manufactured met the required specification and calibration needed to maintain serviceability and reliability in the field. Each inspector was issued his own individual stamp with a unique number that when struck against each part inspected and deemed satisfactory, would leave the familiar “WaA” mark that we see today adorning many parts and equipment issued by the Wehrmacht.
There were also times when the Waffenmeister would have to deal with
captured stocks of enemy weapons that could be of some value to the fighting
soldiers at the front, cataloguing, cleaning and ensuring they functioned
correctly ready for reissue. Often ammunition would be captured alongside
the arms but in some cases the Waffenmeister would be responsible for
converting the calibres to suit their own ammunition supplies for example
the large scale conversion of Russian PPSh-41 from the Soviet 7.62×25mm
Tokarev cartridge calibre to the German 9×19mm Parabellum was a
typical example of this being done.
Even in winter time the work of the waffenmeister was never done as most weapons required the lubrication and recoil oil changing over to a thinner mixture to compensate for the extreme low temperatures that would make the standard oil’s thicken up to the consistency of treacle or in some cases completely freeze up making the weapon totally inoperable. It is often overlooked and forgotten that these vital services behind the front lines existed however one can never underestimate the importance of the service they provided.
Pictures showing the unit's Waffenmeister and munitions display all taken at our recent event at the Avoncroft Museum.
Article submitted by Simon Garner.
Photography by Kevin Booth.