Volunteer (military)

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German volunteers for the Greek Army in the Turkish-Greek War of 1897
War-volunteer seminarians of the Reserve Hunter Battalion No. 23
German war volunteers join the Panzergrenadier division "Greater Germany", February 1944
Cretan volunteers in the Balkan War 1912/13
Dutch volunteers in Indonesia in December 1918

A volunteer is a soldier who has committed himself to military service voluntarily - that is, out of personal motivation . Soldiers who volunteer for a specific - shorter or longer - assignment or are then deployed for this (e.g. command (company) ) are called volunteers.

In the German Empire , the term referred to war volunteers those men who, for the purposes of § 98.2 of the German army order at a mobilization for the duration of the upcoming war reported to join the army.


Freedom of action is a prerequisite for voluntary enrollment in the military. Conscripts can voluntarily undertake military service before they are called up or beyond the scope of compulsory military service. FWDL is the name for f reiwillig W ore d ERVICE l eistenden soldiers in the armed forces .

Historical development

Even before the development of military service and compulsory military service in the current sense, men capable of military service were obliged to do military service or recruited in some other way . In the history of troops was prepared from slaves , serfs and bondsmen on, advertised for volunteers or pressed men for military service. For the first time, there was conscription in Egypt at the time of the Old Kingdom .

The hunter troop , made up of hunters and foresters in 1631 under the reign of Landgrave Wilhelm V of Hessen-Kassel , is the oldest in the German-speaking area. In contrast to many strangers or squeezed infantry of the time, they were volunteer men who were considered particularly loyal to their sovereign.

In the wars of liberation against the occupation by Napoleonic France , volunteers not only served in the regular troops, but also in various voluntary associations such as the Lützow Freikorps .

Apart from the cadres , which consisted of regular or professional soldiers , conscripts with a higher education could serve as so-called one-year volunteers in the Old Army of the German Empire . The aim of this institution was to create a reserve officer corps from the wealthy and privileged part of society. The term war volunteers within the meaning of Section 98.2 of the Defense Regulations denoted men who reported for service for the duration of the fighting after the outbreak of a war.

The German war volunteers of the First World War in the true sense of the word were only unserved volunteers of a year not yet required to serve in the military who had not yet been drafted and assigned to the reserve reserve or the Landsturm . As a rule, they had not yet reached the age of 20 when the war broke out. The German High Command made after the war began several reserve corps to which most of the already August 1914 occurred war volunteers were assigned. Several of these reserve corps were first used in the Battle of Ypres in the autumn of 1914 and suffered heavy losses.

Polish, Czech and Slovak immigrants from the greater Paris area and from northern France became involved in the French army during the First World War. With this they wanted to fight the supremacy of Germany and Austria-Hungary over their home countries.

When the First World War broke out, Polish immigrants founded the Committee of Polish Volunteers . They wanted to show their willingness to fight in the French Foreign Legion . Together with like-minded Czech and Slovak immigrants in the training camp in Bayonne, they formed a company with the nickname “Nazdar”. Many of them died in the French offensive in Artois in May 1915 ( Loretto Battle ).

After Italy entered the war in 1915 , over 10,000 volunteer shooters in Austria-Hungary registered for military service.

The Reichswehr was due to the conditions imposed by the Versailles Treaty to 1935 exclusively of volunteers within the meaning of regular soldiers .

The International Brigades of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War was a voluntary association of non-Spanish anti-fascists .

After the start of the war in 1939 , numerous volunteers in the German Reich registered. Foreign volunteers of the Waffen-SS also volunteered during the war . You have been granted naturalization. In several European countries, units such as B. set up the Spanish Blue Division . Numerous volunteers also volunteered on the Allied side (see below).

On July 15 and 16, 1955, against the votes of the SPD, the German Bundestag passed the Volunteers Act , which allowed 6,000 volunteers to be employed in the Bundeswehr. This was an important step towards establishing the Bundeswehr . In the first year, 150,000 citizens volunteered for the armed forces. Conscription was passed by law in Germany in July 1956. After the suspension of compulsory military service in Germany, since July 1, 2011, the Bundeswehr has been serving as volunteers in addition to regular soldiers (FWDL).

The National People's Army of the German Democratic Republic was purely a volunteer army in the first few years, since compulsory military service was not enforceable until the Wall was built in 1961 .

In the Israeli army, there is the Sar-El program, in which non-Israelis, regardless of their origin, can do unarmed service in the armed forces for a few weeks.

Other countries

United States

The widely used illustration of Uncle Sam is from a World War I recruitment poster by James Montgomery Flagg .

The US Army knows volunteer troops ( United States Volunteers ), which can consist of volunteers or militia troops from the individual US states. Called up for military service by the US president, they were paid like the regular troops. Promotions of officers of the volunteer troops were only valid for deployment during a war mission (certification), in contrast to officers of the regular troops they lost this rank with the dismissal.


After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, around 30,000 volunteers signed up in Canada (background information here ).

In 1917 there was a conscription crisis in Canada . Since there were not enough volunteers to volunteer in Europe, the conservative federal government of Prime Minister Robert Borden pushed through the introduction of conscription in 1917 . This measure split the country into two camps: the English-speaking majority of the population supported conscription, while in the French-speaking part of the country it was rejected by a large majority. Ultimately, only a few thousand soldiers were affected by this conscription.

After the beginning of the Second World War, 54,873 men volunteered in September 1939. In June 1940, 29,309 volunteered; in January 1943 it was a five-digit number for the last time (12,079). By 1941 there were enough volunteers in Canada to form five overseas divisions. In the autumn of 1944 the conscription crisis of 1944 occurred .


Australia had two armies from 1903 to 1980. The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) consisted of volunteers and could be deployed anywhere in the world. This army fought in the First and Second World Wars . The Commonwealth Military Force , however, was only allowed to be used in an attack on Australian territory and consisted of conscripts .


4,983 Irish soldiers deserted their - neutral - army in the Second World War to fight alongside British troops against Hitler's Germany. Many were there for the landing in Normandy (summer 1944). In Ireland these men - most of whom have since died - are not considered heroes until 2012, but rather deserters. After their return, the surviving returnees were dishonorably discharged from the army without a hearing, relieved of all military pension claims and banned from any state employment for seven years. Some even had to answer to a court martial . The order to do this (Emergency Powers (No 362) Order 194) is still known today as the 'starvation order'.

In 2011, a retired taxi driver from Dublin started a campaign to rehabilitate these men. Ireland's chief legal counsel Máire Whelan (“Attorney General of Ireland”) was to decide in an expert opinion in 2012 whether the operation “against tyranny and totalitarianism” should outweigh this special form of desertion. The decision was made in June 2012; Justice and Defense Secretary Alan Shatter apologized to these men on behalf of the state.

Great Britain

British propaganda poster
Propaganda poster

In Great Britain there was a "voluntary enlistment movement". In the first two months of the First World War, around 761,000 men joined the British Army (this was referred to as "the first rush" by historian Basil Williams in 1918). In a period from about August 24th to September 10th, that number peaked, then the numbers collapsed. Henkens emphasizes (p. 68) that the large number of volunteers was only reached after bad news had arrived from the battlefields in Belgium and France.

Parade of the Czechoslovak legions, 1918

Czechs and Slovaks

The Czechoslovak Legions were military units formed from Czechs and Slovaks during the First World War , which were set up in France, Italy and Russia to fight on the side of the Entente against the Central Powers . In total, these army formations comprised up to 250,000 soldiers on all fronts. In Russia, the local Czechoslovak Corps appeared as a combat unit on the Russian Western Front and independently in the Russian civil war . Analogous to the anti-Bolshevik White Finns, White Poland, etc., were due to their advocacy for White Army of the Bolsheviks as White Czechs called. In Italy, deserters from the Austro-Hungarian army were formed into a Czech division and deployed on the Piavefront.

In France , numerous exiled Czechs volunteered for the army; In mid-1914 a separate department was established in the Foreign Legion. Later, the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and Edvard Beneš signed for the Czechoslovak National Council - an agreement to set up the Czechoslovak National Army as an autonomous association within the French armed forces.


On May 10, 1940, the German Wehrmacht began the campaign in the west , two weeks later Great Britain was in distress: the British Expeditionary Corps had to evacuate its last refuge in the Battle of Dunkirk (May 26 to June 5, 1940). The Germans planned to invade Britain . Leading political forces in India declared that they would only want to enter the war if India would gain independence in return. The British Governor General Lord Linlithgow declared the state of war between the Indian Empire and Germany at the beginning of the Second World War, without first consulting Indian politicians. At the beginning of the war India had an army of around 200,000 men; when it ended, 2.5 million men had reported. This was the largest volunteer army in World War II. British India gained independence after negotiations in 1947.


In a comprehensive survey of American volunteers, the psychologist David Mantell found power-based family socialization as the cause of their military aggressiveness .

Known war volunteers

First World War

Other wars

See also


  • Rolf Gundlach, Carola Vogel: Military history of pharaonic Egypt , Schöningh Paderborn 2006, ISBN 3-506-71366-3 .
  • Christine G. Krüger, Sonja Levsen (Ed.): War Volunteering in Modern Times. From The French Revolution to the Second World War , Basingstoke / New York 2011, ISBN 978-0-230-22805-4 .

Web links

Commons : Volunteer (Military)  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Volunteer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: War Volunteers  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. The Front - Ways to Remember World War I in the Nord-Pas de Calais In: wegedererinnerung-nordfrankreich.com , accessed on April 11, 2018.
  2. ^ Ingomar Pust : Die Steinerne Front , Carinthia Verlag, Klagenfurt 1988, p. 13
  3. ^ The German newsreel (567/27/1941)
  4. ^ Otto Langels: rearmament of Germany . Deutschlandradio Kultur. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  5. Conscription becomes voluntary . n-tv online. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  6. ^ Military (in) the GDR . Federal Agency for Civic Education. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  7. On vacation in uniform in the Negev desert . Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  8. Chapter XIV, footnote 6
  9. page 246
  10. a b Soldiers branded deserters pardoned . Irish second world was 'deserters' pardoned for joining British army . The Guardian . Irish Republic pardons wartime deserters . BBC
  11. Heroic Deserters . In: Der Spiegel . No. 2 , 2012, p. 77 ( online ).
  12. The Irish Deserters historyinanhour.com
  13. Sascha Henkens: "The whole people is a single will, a single heart" - The "Spirit of 1914" in an international comparison . (Master's thesis) Grin Verlag, 2010, ISBN 978-3-640-73517-4 , structure and introduction  ; Page 59 ff.
  14. ^ Pocket dictionary CSSR . Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1983, p. 241
  15. ^ Emil Strauss: The emergence of the Czechoslovak Republic. Prague 1934, p. 95
  16. ^ Karl Bosl: Handbook of the history of the Bohemian lands. Vol. 3, Stuttgart 1968, pp. 361-363.
  17. David Mantell: Family and Aggression. To practice violence and non-violence. An empirical study . Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 1972 ISBN 3-10-047101-6
  18. ^ Arnulf Scriba: Joseph Wirth. Tabular curriculum vitae in the LeMO ( DHM and HdG )