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"Some Notes on German Mountain Warfare" from Intelligence Bulletin, March 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Notes on German mountain warfare tactics, from Intelligence Bulletin, March 1944.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy equipment and tactics published for Allied soldiers. More accurate data on German weapons and tactics is available in postwar publications.]



An article entitled "Combat in High Mountains and Extreme Cold," which appeared in Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. I, No. 2, discussed certain aspects of German mountain warfare; the material presented below, however, is of much more recent origin, and includes methods not discussed previously.


German Army units trained in mountain warfare are committed to the principle that thorough preparation is the key to success. All possible information regarding terrain is obtained and evaluated in ample time before an operation. Local inhabitants are not overlooked as sources of information. Maps are studied with the greatest care, and altitude differences. wooded areas, and trails and short cuts are noted particularly. In studying the objectives, and the routes leading to them, the Germans make every effort to choose "unexpected" ways of reaching an objective, so as to insure the element of surprise. (This idea was employed with remarkable success in Norway, where the Germans deliberately chose to move by routes locally regarded as almost impassable.)


In mountain warfare the Germans believe in holding a higher unit, such as a battalion or regiment, responsible for reconnaissance. It is generally performed on foot. The Germans, recognizing that it must necessarily be slow and that guerrillas are likely to be encountered, send out reconnaissance patrols large enough, and appropriately equipped, to engage in combat. Sometimes units as large as a company are sent out for this purpose. The exact size is, of course, determined by the nature of the mission. It is interesting to note that in general the Germans believe in restricting reconnaissance to paths, trails, and other "passable" terrain, even though routes of an "improbable" type may later be considered for tactical surprise. Reconnaissance patrols are equipped with radio.


a. Dispositions and Tactical Movement

(1) In mountainous terrain the Germans assign more troops for defense action than they assign for offensive action.

(2) The Germans believe in a wide front subdivided into areas assigned to assault groups (where attack is contemplated) or strong points (where defense is contemplated).

(3) Personal resourcefulness is stressed. Noncommissioned officers are encouraged to act decisively, since it often happens that the smallest unit is faced with the necessity of determining a course of action.

(4) The Germans give a great deal of thought to the placing of reserves. They realize that the task of sending reserves where, and when, they are needed is almost certain to be complicated by the terrain factor. Therefore, they try to prepare for all possible eventualities when they place their reserves.

(5) In the attack, the units are strongly organized in depth. They advance sector by sector. Units are told that once such moves have been made, withdrawal cannot be undertaken.

b. Heavy Weapons

(1) "Fewer heavy weapons and more ammunition" is a German principle in mountain warfare.

(2) It is a German policy, after a penetration, to avoid moving heavy weapons forward until proper positions for effective fire in the new situation can be determined.

(3) Heavy weapons are used on the flanks of the forward lines.

c. Fire

(1) The German view is that forces can be concentrated for the main effort only by means of signal communication.

(2) Since ammunition supply presents a difficult problem in mountain warfare, the usual German procedure is to fire only on orders. Single rounds are aimed with the greatest care, for considerations of economy as well as effect.

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