During the Sicilian campaign, perhaps the best example of German tactics
in close-quarter fighting and withdrawal was furnished in the Battle of Primosole.
After the initial assault by Allied troops on the morning of 15 July 1943, which
was brought to a standstill, the Germans made no attempt to defend the river line
but concentrated on holding a position in the vineyards and ditches on each side of
the road, north of the bridge. This position was based on a sunken track which
afforded cover from view and in the banks of which shallow trenches were dug.
The track ran west from the main road about 200 yards north of the river. The
Germans also made much use of ditches running east and west from the main road.
Pillboxes in the area were not used by the Germans as they had been engaged by
75-mm gun fire from Allied tanks.
The Germans were equipped with a very high proportion of automatic
weapons, particularly light machine guns. During the night fighting, light machine
guns fired on fixed lines very close to the ground, causing wounds to feet and legs
and preventing crawling. The fire was coordinated with the firing of flares. Bursts
of 10 to 15 rounds were fired at a rate of one burst about every minute.
In daylight, machine guns were well concealed in commanding positions
in ditches and along the sunken track. Much use appeared to be made of alternate
and supplementary positions, for each machine gun appeared to fire first from one
location and then another. Never more than two or possibly three machine guns were
firing at any one time, giving the impression of a very small force, whereas in the
length of the sunken track alone (from 200 to 300 yards) the number of rifles and
other weapons counted and the number of prisoners taken showed that there were
at least 50 to 60 men.
Individual snipers armed with light machine guns, sub-machine guns or
rifles were concealed in the vineyards and trees forward of, and on the flanks of the
Germans' main position. The mission of these snipers was probably to protect
the German flanks and to serve as a nuisance against Allied troops.
During the first part of the battle the Germans had very few mortars. Only
one is known to have fired, and its fire was inaccurate and did not appear to be
observed, probably because of the closeness of the fighting.
Grenade throwing pistols and rifle grenade dischargers, both types of
weapons throwing a high-explosive grenade approximately 20-mm in diameter,
were used at close quarters to put down a heavy concentration of HE. Many stick
and egg grenades were also used.
The Germans had four or five 88-mm guns and one or two antitank guns of
small caliber, 20 mm or 37 mm. These guns were used principally to cover the
main road. No attempt was made to conceal them, probably because they were
brought up in great haste, when the Germans discovered the presence of Allied
tanks and realized that bridge demolition work was impossible. But demolition
charges and magnetic antitank grenades were used by individual Germans who
concealed themselves in ditches by the side of the road and in culverts under the
road and engaged our tanks at close quarters.
The German withdrawal from their defense. position was at the rate of five
to six miles daily, each movement being to a previously selected position. Such
positions were chosen for their commanding nature, affording good fields of fire
for machine guns and good observation posts for mortars. Sometimes they were
based on natural antitank obstacles such as river beds. Towns and villages were
not used as centers of resistance except where commanding positions over a
bottleneck could be obtained by occupying houses on high ground. On one occasion
the Germans occupied a line of houses built on a very high ridge. A sunken road
behind the houses provided good lateral communications and a covered line of
Patrol reports and reports from civilians indicated that the Germans usually
withdrew in the early morning, between 0200 and 0400 hours, the last elements to
leave often being covered by a few tanks. The Germans gave no sign of their
withdrawal, such as increased shelling and machine-gun fire at the end of day and
intervals during the night. Such fire had marked their withdrawals in Africa.