The commanders of four U.S. rifle companies which have been in
contact with the enemy in the Siegfried Line have furnished valuable
information about the resistance offered by German pillboxes, and
have submitted comments regarding the vulnerability, as well as the
capabilities, of these fortifications. The terrain in which these rifle
companies have been fighting contains many steep hills (some as
high as 500 feet), woods with thick underbrush, and streams.
Consequently, most of it is poor tank country. The pillboxes
encountered by rifle companies have been of three types: some have
had only one aperture, others have had mounted machine guns and
two apertures, while still others have simply been personnel shelters.
As to density, there has been approximately one pillbox every 100
yards in width and depth, and the fortifications have been mutually
supporting. The Germans have had very good observation and an
abundance of artillery and mortar support.
None of the company commanders' remarks should be construed as
necessarily coinciding with United States Army doctrine.
|U.S. soldiers fire a bazooka into a pillbox in the Siegfried Line.|
|A front view of a captured pillbox in the Siegfried Line.|
"Most of the pillboxes seem to have been constructed to permit
long-range fires. Once you get fairly close, there are quite a few dead
spaces through which troops can filter. We've found it advisable either
to view the routes from a good observation post on the previous day or
to make a thorough map reconnaissance. One way of avoiding enemy
fire has been to move across open ground, from ridge to ridge, during
the hour just before daylight. Although one of our rifle companies
gained only 100 yards in a whole day of fighting, because of extremely
heavy German mortar and machine-gun fire, the same company
caught the Germans unaware in the hour before daylight the next
morning. It covered 1,000 yards without losing a man, and took six
pillboxes without the aid of supporting weapons."
Cooperation with Mechanized Support
"When tanks or tank destroyers are used, infantry should be
deployed, ready to rise and advance with the vehicles as the latter pass
through the infantry positions. As I see it, infantry should not be
allowed to stop because of mortar or artillery fire, for infantrymen who
lose close contact with the tanks are more vulnerable, and the
demoralizing effect of an infantry-tank assault upon the Germans is
"Each member of an assault team must know not only his own
weapon and his own mission, but the weapon and mission of everyone
else on the team. That is, he must be familiar with flame throwers,
demolition charges, rocket launchers, and so on. Sometimes each rifle
platoon is assigned a fixed zone of responsibility. Each pillbox becomes
a phase line for coordination and reorganization. In many instances a
single platoon, by firing at the embrasures, will cause two or three
German pillboxes to `button up'. However, the Germans often will
continue to fire through small slits in the embrasures. The fact that
pillboxes are mutually supporting very definitely is something to
remember. This is why our plans always include fire on flanking
pillboxes, as well as on those which are to be assaulted."
Use of Smoke
"The saying that a blind man cannot shoot straight can be equally
true of German pillboxes. While it is not always possible or desirable to
use smoke, a pillbox which has received smoke and white phosphorus
from 81-mm mortars and artillery is at a great disadvantage when the
actual assault takes place."
Infantry and Direct Supporting Fire
"Supporting weapons, such as tanks, which have been placing direct
fire on pillbox apertures should cease fire without signal as soon as the
infantry comes within 25 yards of the pillbox. The Germans are likely to
keep an aperture closed if the infantrymen nearest it take it under fire
immediately. If two flanking groups of three or four men each take up
positions in the rear of the pillbox, they can cover the rear entrance
and apertures. If the support squad locates the embrasures in the
supporting pillboxes and keeps them covered with fire, German
capabilities are reduced proportionately. The rest of the company or
platoon should move past the pillbox and secure the ground beyond it,
to protect the assault team while the latter does its job."
|This U. S. soldier is peering into an abandoned German pillbox.|
|A U.S. tank
destroyer has blasted this Siegfried Line pillbox
devastating fire from its 75.
"We have a man work his way close to the pillbox, so that he can
throw in a fragmentation grenade or white phosphorus grenade. When
there is a quiet moment, he shouts, 'Kamerad?' and 'Wir schutzen
nicht!' ('We won't shoot!'). Often the occupants of the pillbox will give
up at this stage. If they don't surrender, use of rifle grenades or the
bazooka against the steel doors or apertures may have the desired
effect. For safety's sake, other riflemen cover all fire ports while this is
Digging Them Out
"If the Germans refuse to surrender, some of our men work their
way to the blind side of the pillbox and blow the embrasures with TNT.
After this, working from the top, we place a pole charge against the
door. We never allow anyone to enter the excavated area behind the
pillbox, inasmuch as the Germans always cover it by means of a small
embrasure built especially for this purpose. In no circumstance do we
allow anyone to enter the pillbox to take prisoners. We make them
come to us. Sometimes they claim that they are injured, but we have
found that after a second charge of TNT they somehow manage to walk
"Antipersonnel mines may be found in the approaches to pillboxes.
We always keep half an eye on the ground, just in case."
"We have found that when the preceding measures fail, Siegfried
Line pillboxes may be susceptible to still other assault methods. A
demolition charge can be used, tanks can blast in the rear of the
pillboxes, or a tank dozer can cover the door and embrasures with dirt.
The use of tank dozers may not prove successful in the future because
the Jerries are planting mines, some of them activated by remote
control, as a countermeasure. The one time we used a flame thrower
and a pole charge together, the combination started a fire inside the
pillbox. Some ammunition got going, and the resulting confusion was
all in our favor."
"After an embrasure has been blown out, the Germans often will
remain in the pillbox until they have been persuaded to leave by a
flame thrower or by hand grenades. A hand grenade in the ventilator of
a pillbox sometimes stuns the Boche, but a white-phosphorus grenade
in the same air shaft is likely to prove a great little reviver."
"Even if the enemy surrenders, there may be some men who will not
come out. Keeping the pillbox covered and throwing a grenade into
each room before entering it is our favorite way of preventing further
Making Pillboxes Useless
"The Germans try to reoccupy pillboxes whenever possible. For this
reason we believe in demolishing the fortifications immediately. Six
pillboxes in our portion of the Line have had to be taken three
times. Merely blowing apertures and doors is not enough to make
pillboxes untenable. We find that they must be completely destroyed
right down to the ground. If even one wall is left standing, the
Germans may use it as a place to fight from. This is why we like
to have men follow close behind us with the necessary equipment
to destroy the pillboxes completely."
Readiness to Meet Counterattacks
"After a pillbox has been taken, deployment to the front and flank is
a reasonable precaution against a German counterattack. We find it
necessary to be ready for the rain of German mortar and artillery, fire
which always follows our capture of a pillbox. Bunching up around
prisoners is a dangerous business. Since Jerry is quite prepared to
shoot his own men rather than let them be taken prisoner, it's a good
trick to send them to the rear as quickly as possible.
"At least 1 hour before nightfall is a good time to halt an
attack — and even earlier, if possible — inasmuch as it's absolutely necessary to
set up a proper defense. The Germans will launch a strong
counterattack right after dark, and if you are not well organized, they
will push you off your hard-won ground.
"When we intend to occupy a position, our men dig in, choosing
spots around and between the pillboxes. If we use a pillbox as a rest
position, to relieve our men from their fighting positions, we take care
not to let an enemy counterattack catch us bunched up inside it.
German combat patrols sometimes send one or two men around our
flank to knock out our machine guns
when the counterattack is being made from the front. The enemy
hope that we'll be so interested in firing to the front, to meet the main
attack, that we'll neglect to watch our flanks and rear."
view of a well camouflaged German pillbox, part
Siegfried Line defenses near Aachen.
When the Counterattack Comes
"German counterattacks have been made after nightfall, and have
been preceded by a lot of shouting and talking. This is supposed to be
nervewracking. However, when our troops have organized their
positions well and are thoroughly alert, it is the enemy who suffers,
instead. We have had success with 60-mm illuminating shells in
lighting up these attacks. We hold our fire until Jerry comes in close,
and then we cut him down in our final protective line. We use plenty
of grenades, both fragmentation and white phosphorus. And when
Jerry retreats, we follow him with fire and with fragmentation rifle
A Rifle Company vs. Three Pillboxes
"On 15 September our rifle company attacked a hill on which there
were three pillboxes. Because of heavy fog, our tank destroyers could
not fire; nevertheless, at 0730 we were within 50 yards of the
"We moved sufficiently near the pillboxes to place fire on the
apertures, causing them to close. This took a BAR and a couple of
riflemen. When the apertures were closed, we moved around to the
rear of the pillboxes. Those men who were not part of the assault
section moved out beyond the pillboxes and secured the hill which was
our objective. The assault teams were left to reduce the pillboxes.
These teams then closed in on the pillboxes from the rear. We called
for the Germans to surrender, but they fired a few scattered rounds in
return. We then fired two bazooka rounds into the door at the rear of
each pillbox. In the case of two of the pillboxes, the bazooka and a
couple of hand grenades thrown through the doors brought the
Germans out into the open. We collected four prisoners from one box
and six from the other.
"The Germans in the third pillbox refused to come out. This
presented a bit of a problem. A couple of bazooka rounds fired
at the door, as well as a couple of hand grenades thrown through the
door, merely drove the Jerries from one room to another. Finally they
were driven into the room when the aperture was. A short burst of the
flame thrower changed their minds about surrendering."