Obviously drawn from battle experience, a set of rough lecture notes entitled "The German
Army and You," received from the British School of Infantry, has provided the source material
for this article. It is stated in the introduction that enemy methods lack originality and, because
of the tendency to repeat the same methods, repay study.
Part I - German Habits in Defense
a. Location of Positions
(1) Advanced positions
Advanced positions (Vorgeschobene Stellungen) are apt to be from 6,000 to 8,000 yards
ahead of the main line of resistance. Always covered by German artillery fire, they are usually
held by reconnaissance units, frequently motorized, including motorized machine-gun battalions, vehicles
of which it is important to recognize. With antitank guns and fire power, units occupying these
positions hold key points (railways, crossroads, and river crossings) and engage in demolition
and patrolling operations. Their mission is to get early information as to the point to be
attacked, and promptly pass it back. When attacked, they withdraw under the protection of
their own artillery.
The outposts (Vorposten), in strength at least platoon groups, and perhaps companies, are
pushed 3,000 to 4,000 yards in front of the main line of resistance. Outposts are well covered
by artillery and are supplied with antitank guns. Liberal use is made of dummies. The outpost
mission is to defend the forward observation posts and to deceive the enemy into
making a large-scale attack. Such value is placed on forward observation posts that
outposts, although they may withdraw under cover of artillery, put up a stubborn resistance.
(3) Main Battle Positions
Main battle positions (Hauptkampffeld Stutzpunkt) tend to be a line of hedgehogs (Igeln), which
provide all-around resistance or support points composed of all arms. Sited on high ground for
observation, they are likely to be found in triangular groups, two astride and one behind a
vital point. Single companies usually occupy an area about 400 yards square. With highly developed
arrangements for supply by air, such support points are often isolated, particularly in the case
of defended villages. The nature of the ground and the width of the front held, naturally, are
the determining factors.
(4) Doctrine of "Schwerpunkt' (Center of Gravity) in Defense
As in offense, where the utmost concentration of effort is applied to a narrow front to
crash through all opposition, so in defense, the heaviest concentration of fire and other
defensive measures is prepared in order to hold vital points at any cost--at the sacrifice, if
necessary, of secondary positions. In country unsuited to tanks, the guiding principle of
defense is the maximum use of terrain and mines, with a minimum use of antitank guns. Of
course, the main antitank-gun defense is concentrated on terrain suitable to tank attack.
(5) The Doctrine of Mobility in Defense
The Germans base their defensive tactics on the accepted principle that provision should
be made for a heavy mobile reserve which will counterattack with the utmost available power
as soon as the attack is seen to be thoroughly committed to its plan of operation. This is
the Schwerpunkt principle in reverse.
(6) Details of Defense
Three antitank guns will probably be assigned to each company position, with three
kept in mobile reserve with the battalion mobile guns. Particularly during the construction
phase of the defense, camouflage is very thorough. Slit trenches are preferred to the
more elaborate types. To dissipate the enemy's fire, considerable use is made of dummy
and alternate positions. There are seldom many bursts of fire from the same position. Rather, the
defenders move out of the alternate or dummy positions into the real positions.
(b) Heavy Machine Guns and Mortars
The locations of heavy machine guns and 3-inch mortars are not determined solely by range
but rather by such considerations as:
i. Site of the observation point.
ii. Method of control. (There is little signal equipment in use; communication by wire
is very limited, and there is no radio. Only 8 miles of cable are provided for both the
battalion heavy weapons company and the infantry howitzer company.)
iii. Mortars are usually sited in pairs, from 30 to 50 yards apart.
(c) Siting of Heavy Infantry Howitzers
In the use of heavy infantry howitzers, it must always be borne in mind that the
ammunition available to them is apt to be more limited than is the supply for field
artillery batteries. Its expenditure must be economical, and the Germans place these
weapons where the maximum use can be made of the available ammunition.
(d) Principles of Antitank Defense
i. Even at the risk of firing into supporting troops, the primary duty of all weapons is antitank fire.
ii. Extensive use of minefields--as many as 11,000 mines to a division front--is common
German practice. Weight for weight, mines are preferred to artillery. Dummy minefields
are a favorite device. [Other sources report that there are enough live mines in such
fields to make them real obstacles.]
iii. Almost never are antitank guns placed singly, but rather, to prevent flanking, in
pairs back to back. In order to impede armored reconnaissance, they may be expected in
iv. Never to fall back before a tank attack is a rule hammered into all German
infantrymen. Instead, they are trained to stand fast, and to save their ammunition
for use against the foot troops following in rear of the tanks.
(7) Features of Rommel's Retreat Orders
One of General Rommel's directives, which fell into British hands, featured the
i. Schwerpunkt (center of gravity doctrine, previously explained, which applies
to all units regardless of size).
ii. A "main effort" was to be executed by not less than a complete company, heavily
reinforced by supporting arms and directed at a point along the main axis of the German
withdrawal. [The Schwerpunkt principle emphasizes concentration of force and discourages
iii. Careful flank protection; platoons designated for such missions were reinforced with supporting arms.
iv. Use of tanks, engineers, and scattered minefields.
Part II - German Habits in Attack
The German attack is likely to be stereotyped and fashioned after their instruction
training combat exercises. This generalization applies from the highest to the
lowest units. One document that came to British hands featured a "Battle Drill," and
there are "drills" for assault troops. They emphasize organization and detailed
execution. Surprise is sometimes achieved as a result of thoroughness in reconnaissance
and the weight of the stunning blow. [Note: Frequent variations in methods are to be
expected. The Germans simply emphasize teamwork -- not individual grandstand plays. This, the
author has apparently mistaken for lack of brilliance in plan and originality.]
b. Thorough Reconnaissance
Special reconnaissance units cover relatively wide areas: in desert warfare and open
terrain 12 x 12 miles for infantry, 60 x 60 for armored. Determined to get information
at all costs, the German does not hesitate to employ on these missions tanks and antitank
guns. German reconnaissance officers accept great personal risk, and the units themselves
purposely offer tempting targets in order to uncover enemy gun positions. Patrols are
equipped with special night-glasses and wire cutters. Except perhaps in pursuit, the
attack is not launched until reconnaissance is complete, with both enemy flanks plotted
and, if possible, the enemy rear as well.
c. Outflank, Encircle, Destroy
Capture of ground is not the object of German attack, but rather the total destruction
of the enemy. Following upon a search for a point of penetration, the ultimate assault, even
if by a company only, must be "frontal," but flanking operations, kept out of the line of the
fire support, ensure the enemy's destruction.
d. The Application of "Schwerpunkt" Doctrine
First, a thorough reconnaissance is made of the selected point of attack. This point
must be on a good route for the projected advance. A frontage of 400 to 600 yards is
sufficient. At the expense of other sectors, an overwhelming force of all arms is
assembled before such a thrust-point.
e. The Attack
As soon as sufficient information is at hand, and while reconnaissance is
being continuously pushed, deployment and preparation for the attack are made.
(1) The "Break-In" (Einbruch)
Five different methods of attack are prepared for by drill and exercises, depending on
the nature and strength of the opposition as it is discovered. These are:
Opposition--strongly fortified. In the lead are special assault-troops (Stosstruppen) consisting
of combat teams of infantry and engineers. They are followed by tanks and infantry on a very narrow front.
Opposition--well-prepared but not strongly fortified. Normal armored divisions attack
with tanks massed in depth, followed by motorized infantry on a very narrow front.
Opposition--strongly-held river line (such as the Meuse, Marne, Rhine, Albert Canal). The
infantry divisions, with engineer reinforcements, attack at different points to establish bridgeheads. Then
follow the armored units and motorized infantry.
Opposition--lightly held river line. The mechanized reconnaissance units
carrying bridging equipment boldly cross and establish bridgeheads. Armored divisions follow.
Opposition--enemy defenses incomplete. Armored divisions attack followed by motorized infantry.
(b) The Fire Fight
Against the selected thrust-point a violent fire is opened. On a battalion front of 600 yards, during a
field exercise, were concentrated (as called for by smoke signal)--
6 heavy mortars from the battalion heavy weapons company;
12 machine guns, from the same;
4 light infantry howitzers (75-mm) of the regimental infantry gun company;
2 heavy infantry howitzers (150-mm).
All this, called the "concert," was exclusive of the light machine guns, submachine guns and
the allotment of divisional artillery. A similar procedure was followed by the artillery. The
slogan is: "Niederkampfen, niederhalten, und blinden"--beat down, hold down, and
blind. Great stress is laid on sudden, intense concentrations of fire--not formal
barrages--to stupefy the defense, and on the use of smoke. The use of smoke is highly developed.
Hard study has been devoted to the last hundred yards of the assault--books have been
written about it--and the understanding of its significance was thoroughly indoctrinated
into the German army by 1938. At very short range, close support is given by 50-mm mortars
and smoke, grenades, as well as by light machine guns firing long bursts. Factors of
noise, shock, fear, and ferocity are all exploited; dive-bombers and screaming bombs (what
the Russians call "circus tactics") are piled on, if for no other purpose than to make the
enemy fire inaccurate.
(2) The Breakthrough (Durchbruch)
Once the "break-in" has been accomplished, the time-table program of the assault is
over. Now the initiative is handed over to the subordinate commanders. Their duty is
to "tear the guts" out of the defense. For this purpose, close-support weapons are
allotted to the subordinate commanders and their combat teams. As flanks of the attackers
become exposed, the attack is not diverted, but the exposed flanks are covered with
antitank guns and, if necessary, artillery. Tough localities, such as defended
villages, are bypassed and taken care of by the reserve. Where possible, the gap is
smashed open to a width of about 6 miles to permit the passage of pursuit troops
without loss from rifle and machine-gun fire.
(3) The Pursuit (Aufrollen)
The object of the breakthrough is deep and rapid penetration. Combat teams relentlessly
pursue and never lose contact. As a rule, the smallest pursuing unit is a company with
supporting weapons. As in the breakthrough, centers of resistance are bypassed to carry
on the pursuit, and flanks are protected by "fanning out" and by the use of defensive
positions organized for both all-around and antitank defense.
Part III - Points to be Remembered When Germans Attack
a. Reconnaissance Practice
Signs of "a Schwerpunkt coming here" are: a thorough local air reconnaissance; deep
patrolling or raids; and deployment of close-support weapons. Watch closely for--
(1) Mounted or horse-drawn troops: they are almost certain evidence of an infantry division.
(2) A mounted party of more than 32 indicates infantry regimental reconnaissance unit.
(3) Bicycle troops in large numbers indicate an infantry division reconnaissance
unit. Motorcyclists alone, not accompanied by side-cars, are probably only dispatch
riders, but side-cars suggest armored divisions or motorized infantry.
(4) Armored cars, of the lighter type, may be from an infantry division, which
has three in the divisional reconnaissance unit, or they may equally well be from
armored or motorized divisions. These latter divisions have mixed reconnaissance
units of five light and some heavy cars, and a group of nine light armored cars.
(5) Horse-drawn artillery indicates an infantry division.
(6) Tanks. Armored divisions usually operate reconnaissance platoons of five
tanks, moving fast and giving mutual support.
(7) Mine-lifting activity is apt to precede the approach of a Schwerpunkt
attack, as are engineers in tanks, the operations of night patrols, and the presence
b. German Methods of Attack
(1) Opening Assault
Expect a combination of mass, speed, and momentum, concentrated on a narrow front. If
held up, dive-bombers, machine guns, and other close-support weapons will be massed to
form a "fire front." The Germans will then try to turn your flanks. NOW IS THE
TIME TO LOOK OUT!
Go for the light machine guns and light mortars. Three men lying close together
means a light machine gun or mortar, and the mortar gives off a puff of pinkish smoke. To
attack them successfully calls for two men working together, one covering the advance of
the other until one is in position to use rifle or grenade. Go for the infantry guns, which
can be identified by a loud report and a big flash. They are often pushed well forward.
(a) Watch for smoke signals. White smoke means probably "We are here" colored
lights or smoke call for fire support. Turn the information to your own advantage.
(b) Mortars usually fire three ranging rounds, followed by groups of 10 bombs. Don't
wait for the group. If you are in the middle of the bracket, MOVE. The 81-mm mortars are
usually located in pairs, the 50-mm in threes.
(c) Antitank rifles are usually placed together in groups of three; antitank
guns in pairs, or threes, sited back to back.