The Germans have been showing decided originality
in exploiting rugged, rocky terrain in Italy. Since
terrain of this type is common to many parts of Southern
Europe, and is very likely to favor the defenders,
certain enemy defensive methods employed under such
conditions are examined here.
2. DEFENSIVE METHODS IN ITALY
a. In the Mountains North of Venafro
From a river valley 600 feet above sea level at Pozzilli,
the mountains rise to an elevation of 2,300 feet,
3,000 yards north of the town, and to an elevation of
2,115 feet, 2,000 yards west of the town. Between these
masses are ravines and terraced slopes. The mountains,
or high hills, are crisscrossed with rock walls,
and there are small olive groves here and there. The
rock walls protect Roman trails, roughly paved with
stone, which traverse each cultivated section and link
farms and villages. Apart from the rock walls and
olive trees, there are only barren slopes.
The Germans attempted to deny United Nations
forces access to the hills and to the valley entrances
beyond Pozzilli. It was the enemy intention to make
it necessary for opposing troops to expose themselves
by moving across open slopes or to be canalized in
Most of the German automatic weapons were forward.
The riflemen were behind them, removed from
direct fire and ready to counterattack. Weapons were
grouped, and each section was protected by bunkers
and provided with prepared shelters.
The German shelters in this area consisted of dugouts
reinforced with rocks, boards, and earth. The
rock covering was sufficiently well extended along the
front and sides to blend with the rocky terrain and
thereby provided excellent camouflage. These shelters
were large enough to accommodate from two to five
men. Whereas the smaller shelters merely had straw
for bedding, the interiors of the larger and more elaborate
positions were revetted with boards and contained
bunks. Some of the dugouts were strong
enough to withstand direct mortar and light artillery fire.
Gun positions were situated near the shelters. There
was nothing strikingly unusual about the emplacements. Some
had a small amount of overhead cover. All automatic
weapons were protected by a few riflemen, who also
acted as observers and as sentries along the trails.
German weapons were sited so as to cover the exposed
slopes of hills with interlocking bands of fire,
to cover hollows between hills with cross fire, and to
place direct fire down each trail, ravine, or gully. In
addition to having a primary fire mission, each position
was so situated as to cover an adjacent position
and to support its fire. The network of rock walls
protecting the Roman trails enabled the defenders to
move troops, shift the zones of action, and, in general,
to conceal many kinds of activity from hostile observation.
Protected by these walls, German riflemen continually
harassed the attackers with machine-pistol
fire and hand grenades.
It required very close observation to detect the
exact location of German weapons and their fields of
German camouflage discipline was excellent, and in
forward areas there was a decided lack of visible
movement by daylight. The simplicity of the German
positions resulted in such an effective blend with
the rocky terrain that they presented a remarkably
natural appearance, even to air observation.
The German riflemen who had been withheld for
use in counterattacks were employed for that purpose
throughout the operations. At no time, however, was
a counterattack made in greater strength than that
needed to regain a very limited objective. Because
of the rock walls shielding the trails, it was very
difficult to be sure of the German point of main
effort (Schwerpunkt) until after an attack
One night counterattack in particular is of interest,
involving, as it did, an unusual ruse. Two or
three Germans armed with machine pistols drove a
herd of goats into the right flank of a battalion position.
Under cover of the resulting noise and confusion,
the main German effort was launched against
the left flank of the same battalion position. At
first, the ruse was successful. The counterattack was
repulsed only after a bitter hand-to-hand fight.
Throughout the German defense of the Pozzilli
area, German artillery placed intermittent harassing
fire on zones not completely covered by small-arms fire.
Evidence suggests that this harassing fire was not
observed, but, rather, that it was prearranged and
that the Germans had secured their firing data before
United Nations troops attacked. The Germans laid
down only one heavy barrage during the entire action.
b. In the Monte la Difensa Area
(1) In the Monte la Difensa area (which is about
8 miles southwest of Venafro), an unusually high percentage
of German infantry was found to be armed
with machine pistols. The enemy also used the MG 42. Both
the machine pistol and the MG 42 have a
very high cyclic rate of fire, which permits easy distinction
between German and friendly automatic
weapons. Many rifles equipped with flash hiders were
(2) An unusual German method of mortar and
artillery fire control was encountered in this area,
where the terrain is rugged and rocky, with a number
of natural caves and clefts in the mountainside. The
Germans improved these clefts and used them as
dugouts, camouflaging each opening so that it blended
with the terrain and constructing a protective barrier
across the front. In some instances, dugouts were
occupied by only one man, who was supplied with
enough ammunition, rations, and water for several
days. The occupant was armed with a machine pistol,
and was supplied with tracer ammunition. As the attack
progressed toward the German position, the supporting
troops withdrew, but the occupant of the
shelter remained in place. When he observed a promising
mortar or artillery target, he fired a round of
machine-pistol tracer at, or over, the target. Usually
this procedure was undertaken by two of the posts;
as a result, the target was indicated by the intersection
of tracer fire. This tracer fire served both as the
call for mortar and artillery fire and as the control.
The observers kept their positions secret as long as
they possibly could, firing only an occasional round
for effect and never engaging targets for their own
personal defense, except as a last resort.
Some of these observation posts were provided with
escape routes, while others permitted no easy exit.
In the latter case, the observer would remain at his
post until he was killed or captured. It is significant
that at least one of the dugouts was equipped with radio.
(3) The Germans had mortar and artillery firing
data covering, existing trails, but these calculations
were upset when the attackers used new trails up the
mountains. The enemy made .a special effort to
place fire on United Nations soldiers who bunched
up. Enemy observers did not call for artillery or
mortar fire on two or three men, but when they observed
a dozen or more soldiers close together, they
called for fire to be placed on them immediately.
(4) The enemy used ruses to locate United Nations
positions. Sometimes German soldiers would deliberately
expose themselves by needless movement, with
the obvious intention of drawing fire. If United
Nations soldiers revealed their position by firing, they
themselves promptly received mortar fire. On the
other hand, the Germans were susceptible to trickery,
and on one occasion even fell for the old ruse of a
helmet on a stick.
(5) The Germans tried to avoid combat at night. This
generally has been the case throughout the Italian
campaign. The enemy usually depended on mortar
and artillery fire to halt night attacks, and tended to
become confused when such attacks were pressed.
(6) The Germans employed the "white flag" ruse
several times. On the first occasion, enemy soldiers
in covered positions fired on a United Nations junior
officer who went forward to accept a prisoner advancing
under a white flag. After that, whenever the
ruse was attempted by the Germans, it failed when the
attackers themselves remained motionless and ordered
the bearers of white flags to keep moving forward.
(7) A controlled minefield was encountered in the
Monte la Difensa area. Tellermines were rigged with
pull-devices, with wire leading to the German positions.
In this way the enemy could detonate a mine
when United Nations troops approached, even though
there was no physical contact between the attackers
and the device.
(8) A German prisoner stated that his company was
divided into two platoons, one of which worked as
snipers while the other served as a combat patrol. Although
no enemy patrols were encountered, it is quite
probable that they existed; if they actually operated,
it is likely that they were so dispersed and had to
cover such a large area that they stopped functioning
as units and worked as individual observers. The
rugged terrain may well have been responsible for this.