A German prisoner, a Panzer Grenadier who had spent 16
weeks at Cassino, told his British interrogators that, in his
opinion, Allied soldiers had made a number of outstanding mistakes
in combat. He discussed these in some detail, and, while his
views are not necessarily endorsed, they are worth examining as
an indication of how some enemy troops may expect us to fight
in the future. On the other hand, this same prisoner's battalion
commander, addressing his company officers on the subject of
the battalion's performance in battle, analyzed the unit's shortcomings
in forthright language. The comments of these two men
are specially interesting when read in sequence.
COMMENTS ON ALLIED METHODS
"Allied infantry attack very cautiously and bunch up too
much when they move against their objectives," the Panzer
Grenadier said. "They are very negligent about seeking
concealment, and therefore can be seen most of the time. When
they move against their objectives, their lines are not staggered
enough and are deep instead of wide.
"Allied soldiers on the double, upon coming to a sudden halt
frequently remain in a kneeling position, simply waiting to be
shot at, instead of throwing themselves to the ground. Then, if
nothing happens, they get up on the same spot where they were
kneeling before, and continue their advance. I think this is
extremely dangerous, especially when the terrain is dotted with
snipers, as it is in Italy. I myself have seen at least a dozen
Allied soldiers die because of this stupidity.
|"Allied soldiers on the double, upon coming to a sudden halt, frequently
remain in a kneeling position, simply waiting to be shot at."
"In the German Army we think it is only common sense for
an attacking soldier to select an objective for each phase of his
advance. Upon reaching an objective, he immediately throws
himself to the ground and crawls 10 to 15 yards to the left or
right, carefully avoiding observation. He waits there a few
seconds before continuing his advance.
"Sometimes, however, the Allied infantryman will drop after
a shot has been fired and will roll to the right. We Germans
know this. We have also noticed that Allied infantry run toward
their objectives in a straight line, forgetting to zigzag and thus
making an excellent target.
"In Italy, especially, attacking forces can use rocks to better
advantage than they do. While I was at Cori, there was a large
space between two rock formations, which afforded a clear field
of fire. We covered it with a light machine gun. The first
Allied troops who tried to pass between the rocks moved
very slowly and in line, and some of them were hit. Not until
then did the others dash through the open space.
"Many Allied commanders lack aggressiveness. They do not
realize when an objective can be taken; consequently, attacking
troops often turn back just before they reach their objective.
"At Cassino I was in a valley with 97 other German soldiers
in foxholes and slit trenches. First, a group of Sherman tanks
attacked within range of our Faustpatronen. Three of the tanks
were knocked out. The infantry, who should have followed
right behind the tanks, were about 500 yards behind, and therefore
were too far away to seek the cover of the armored vehicles.
The tanks immediately retreated. When the infantrymen saw
that the tanks had turned around, they, too, turned around and
retreated. The whole valley should have been cleaned up in a
matter of minutes.
"This great distance between Allied armored units and
infantry was apparent almost every time. There was one instance
when Allied tanks smashed across our foxholes, to be followed
an hour later by infantrymen, who were driven back by hail of
machine-gun fire. We Germans rely on you to make these
"The net cover on the helmets of Allied soldiers permits us
to see the outline of the helmet distinctly, and at a considerable
distance, in the daytime," the German soldier concluded. "On
the other hand, the camouflage that we [Germans] use on our
helmets disrupts the outline of the helmet, and the canvas cover
can be painted to suit the terrain."
COMMENTS ON GERMAN METHODS
"Defense, with its digging-in and long hours of lying in wait,
is contrary to the nature of the German soldier," the German
battalion commander told his officers. "Every company commander
must emphasize to his men repeatedly that the life of
a whole company depends on the alertness of a single soldier.
We must be prepared for new dirty tricks on the Allies' part
"I do not want to hear soldiers complain that they have not
eaten or slept for two days and that the situation is impossible.
The word 'impossible' must not exist in our vocabulary.
"Principally because of its monotony, observation has
become very poor. The slightest movement of bushes must be
reported. Remember that trifles may be pieced together at higher
headquarters to form a significant picture. Even negative
reports may be of the utmost importance. I have been noticing
that our observers do not use camouflage, and that, when they
do, it usually does not match the terrain. As a result, the
observer stands out like a flag. The companies seem to do their
utmost to tell all their actions to the enemy. In short, camouflage
discipline is poor.
"Again and again, it has been evident that our soldiers consider
the night their enemy. Most of our men are completely
helpless at night.
"The Allies are using the night for much of their activity, and
have achieved a great deal of success. I have noticed that they
use their machine-gun fire very effectively at night. They can
place their machine-gun fire 10 to 20 centimeters above the top
of our foxholes, so that even at night our men don't dare to
stick their heads up.
"Our soldiers have learned the same tactics, but are too lazy
to prepare their weapons for night firing. Many of our soldiers
have even adopted the idea that they mustn't fire at all. This
can be traced back to the fact that the enemy, with his superiority
in materiel, often has placed an artillery barrage on
individual soldiers. If we want to bring the old spirit back, the
soldiers must learn that their most important weapon is their shovel.
"Soldiers must prepare alternate positions. We must never
fire from our main positions during daylight. It must not
happen again that our men refrain from firing on Allied troops,
giving as their excuse, 'We would only hit the sand.' It is the
responsibility of the company commander to see that his
company can be ready for action at an instant's notice. In the
instance I have in mind, I don't believe that everybody was asleep,
but, rather, that the proper system was not being followed.
"Our men are not well trained in patrolling. They always
want to attack after a heavy artillery preparation. This is wrong.
Creep up, Indian fashion, and arrive in the enemy's midst
suddenly. It is now self-evident that machine-gun belts must be
wrapped around the stomach, and that pay books and all papers
must be left behind.
|"Creep up, Indian fashion, and arrive in the enemy's midst suddenly."|
"Men must be trained to understand brief military orders.
Our organization is poor. It is changed only after the enemy
has taught us a lesson. The other day we lost a deserter. That
this man is going to talk is obvious. He will at least have told
the enemy the time and route our food carriers change. That
the enemy has acted on such information is proved by our
losses. Why aren't the schedules changed from day to day? Ambulances
do not arrive at the front fast enough. The other day
they took three-quarters of an hour, and I understand that some
of the wounded bled to death.
"Enemy penetration of our lines has occurred mainly because
the gaps between companies have been too large. If the
company on your left fails to maintain contact, you must in your
own interest maintain contact to the left.
"Communications have been very poor. During a barrage,
never send just one messenger. Because of Allied artillery fire,
our line communications have been cut most of the time. Use of
radio, instead, has been impossible because of the lack of radios.
There are far too few messages. The junior officers never put
themselves mentally in the position of the higher echelons.
These echelons are mostly so far to the rear that they cannot be
contacted. Every man, from privates up, must make it a habit
to report as often as possible.
"The distribution of ammunition has been satisfactory, and
our system of ammunition dumps has proved its worth."