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"Reconnaissance Methods (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on German reconnaissance methods from Russian sources, from the Intelligence Bulletin, September 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



Russian fighting men have had excellent opportunities to learn about German reconnaissance methods. The information on this subject in the following paragraph has been collected and arranged by Lt. Col. L. Davidov of the Red Army. It should be of special interest and value to our junior officers and enlisted men.


The Germans place great emphasis on reconnaissance. Dozens of orders and memoranda issued to German Army units include reminders that land reconnaissance must be conducted by all branches, regardless of whether or not this type of work is their primary responsibility.

During periods of inactivity on the fronts. German land reconnaissance attempts to learn:

a. The location and extent of our defensive lines.

b. The location and composition of our strong points.

c. The differences between our day and night dispositions.

d. The location of our obstacles and minefields.

e. The movement and new positions of our units.

German land reconnaissance tries to report accurately and in detail the dispositions of our troops, heavy artillery, headquarters, and reserves. Regarding all changes in our units as significant, the enemy attempts to discover these changes and to draw conclusions which can be put to use. This reconnaissance is carried out by observers, listening sentries, patrols, or battle (reconnaissance in force).

Special attention is given to the reports of the listening sentries. Under cover of darkness, these men crawl as close to our lines as possible, and try to plot and fix the location of various sounds—especially to gain information about our tanks, our reserves, the movement of our patrols, the location of our new artillery positions, and regions in which digging is in progress. Although the listening sentries can sometimes discover important data, we are repeatedly able to deceive them by means of ruses. Since the listening reports are checked in the daytime by German visual observation, we are obliged to deceive the visual observers, as well, for the sake of consistency. For ex-ample, if we imitate tank sounds at night for the benefit of German sentries in a certain locality, the next day we must see to it that there is some sort of camouflage in the same place.

Reconnaissance by combat patrols—usually a platoon—is most often done at night. These patrols, armed with hand grenades and machine pistols, generally operate without artillery support. They try to reach positions on the flanks of our units without attracting our attention, and then suddenly attack a previously assigned objective for the purpose of capturing a "tongue." (In general, the objectives are those which have been discovered by lookouts and listening sentries). After capturing a number of outposts, the Germans send details of two and three men into our rear areas. Our wide-awake unit commanders often take advantage of these tactics for the purpose of counter-reconnaissance.

If the Germans are unable to locate our outposts and flanks or believe them to be well hidden, reconnaissance by a patrol is preceded by artillery and mortar fire. Under such circumstances the raiding party is divided into attacking and supporting groups. As a rule, one or two small groups make a frontal advance, while the remainder attack the designated objective from the flanks. Two or three days before this type of operation, the Germans place ranging fire on the objective and nearby positions. After this preparatory fire, the Germans do not fire again in this region until they are ready to attack. (However, during daylight it is not difficult to detect the movements of small groups of soldiers who are being instructed in the methods to be used for the attack and fire support. It is also fairly easy to detect a group of officers on a reconnoitering mission.) When the Germans are thoroughly prepared, they launch a night attack. If Russian units detect the approaching groups and open fire on them, the Germans signal for the previously prepared artillery and mortar fire.

Reconnaissance in force is the most ambitious of all German reconnaissance missions. As a rule, it is directed against a well-fortified position, and precedes an offensive. (Before such a reconnaissance, small groups, like those described above, will have tried to define the boundaries of the main objective.) The unit which is to perform such a reconnaissance may vary in size from a company to a battalion with artillery support. If the Germans expect to encounter unusually well-fortified positions with prepared obstacles, a unit consisting of combat engineers, heavy artillery, and a number of tanks is integrated into the reconnaissance party.

The Germans try to conduct a reconnaissance in force with all the speed they can achieve. If their first attempt is unsuccessful, they often repeat an attack, sometimes immediately after the first failure. Such an attack generally occurs during the second half of the night or at daybreak. During the daylight hours the objective is placed under intensified observation.

Characteristic methods of German reconnaissance are clearly illustrated by an action which was attempted against the Nth unit of our army. Two days before the time set for a reconnaissance in force, a group of German officers conducted a reconnoitering tour. That same day there was a brief artillery barrage, apparently for ranging. After this there was no action whatever in the sector—no doubt the scheme was to lull the defenders into a sense of security. Two days later, during the second half of the night, the Germans opened concentrated artillery and mortar fire on the same sector. Under cover of this fire, a German reconnaissance unit, divided into three parts, advanced. Presently a German signal light went up, and the artillery fire was shifted to neighboring strong points. Simultaneously, two groups, supported by the small-arms fire of the third, made a quick rush on our trenches. We met the three groups with concentrated artillery and machine-gun fire. This forced the enemy to retreat. We have learned that when we can perceive the enemy's intentions, it is a good policy to allow these first groups to approach our positions so that we can annihilate the attackers at close range.

Finally, a word about German counter-reconnaissance. Highly resourceful officers and soldiers are chosen for this work. These men take up positions as near our lines as possible. Their primary task is to determine the intentions of our reconnaissance patrols; their secondary task is to locate our minefields and learn the boundaries of our positions.


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