The German reserve force isn’t fit for purpose

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech as part of a visit to the Julius Leber Barracks in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
By Dénes Albert
3 Min Read

The reserve wing of the German Army only truly exists on paper, as its troops are not properly equipped and have not received adequate training, the head of the German Reserve Soldiers’ Association has claimed.

In an interview with the German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung, retired Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Sensburg, a former CDU member of parliament, said he believes the reserves are badly managed and significantly underfunded.

“It’s really a force that exists largely on paper,” said the retired lieutenant colonel.

The German government is paying more attention to improving its army after the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine, but with the Bundeswehr underfunded for years, this is no easy task. The reserve forces are seen as an important part of the modernization plan, but the head of the Reserve Forces Association says they are far from their targets and appear more like a phantom army than a valuable component of the country’s defense.

Huge numbers, few trained soldiers

The officially registered total of reservists is around 930,000, a figure that is so high because the law in Germany stipulates that anyone who has previously served in the army is a permanent reservist. However, the true figure of individuals who have recent military training or have been classified as active is as few as 34,000.

Reservists in the regular forces have to beg for uniforms, even routine military training such as target practice is difficult to obtain, and they have no military vehicles. According to Sensburg, at most, reservists are only allowed to use civilian cars, and most bizarrely, reserve tank commanders receive no training on real tanks.

Instead, maneuvers are carried out on foot, and soldiers are not obliged to participate in exercises.

The reserves would have a wide range of tasks in a crisis, from guarding power stations and transporting the wounded to filling in gaps on the front line, but Sensburg says they are currently unable to do these things.

The veteran officer said it was clear that increasing the number of equipment, vehicles, and weapons available to the reserves was the first step, but a change in the organizational structure of the reserve force was also needed. Sensburg added that at the very least, reserve soldiers should be required to complete a two-week training course every two years.

By comparison, the British Army Reserve Wing requires soldiers to serve 27 days a year, and if reservists meet this requirement, they receive a cash reward or “bounty.”

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