The flexibility of organization and willingness to form special groups, which is
characteristic of the German army, is illustrated by the small parties known
as Stosstruppen (assault detachments) formed to attack enemy positions.
This term has often been loosely used, even by the Germans themselves, to
denote any assaulting troops.
A German Army High Command paper gives the following essential characteristics
of an assault detachment:
(a) Specially formed for a particular object;
(b) Composed of picked men, normally volunteers;
(c) Specially equipped for its tasks;
(d) Specially trained, and, if possible, rehearsed for the operation.
It will be seen that an assault detachment is necessarily, therefore, something
to be employed only in position warfare, however temporary the enemy's defensive
positions may be; and that although it is principally drawn from the infantry, it
will make use of other weapons besides those normal to the infantry, and will
be reinforced by engineers.
The occasional nature and varying composition of assault detachments do
not prevent the regular training of troops for this employment. The High Command
paper referred to above observes that this method of attack was everywhere
practiced during the winter 1939-1940 in view of the prospective attack on
the Maginot Line and the extended field fortifications in Belgium and Holland; and
that this constant practice caused attacks by assault detachments to be the
one operation which the mass of the German infantry had thoroughly mastered
by the spring.
b. Composition, Armament, and Equipment
Information secured during the campaign in the Western Desert last
winter gives details of assault detachments which it is believed were to be used
against Tobruk. From these it is possible to infer the teaching of German
The following elements are regularly included:
(1) Wire-cutting party (Hindernissprengtrupp, Sperrensprengruppe) of
three or four engineers, with wire-cutters and bangalore torpedoes.
(2) Pillbox attacking party (Schartensprengtrupp, Stosstrupp, etc.) of
four or eight men. This normally includes four engineers with two flamethrowers: pole
and other charges may also be carried. The infantrymen are armed with hand
grenades, or even with one or two light machine guns.
(3) Smoke party (Nebeltrupp) of two or three men armed with
smoke candles and smoke grenades, or even with a mortar for firing smoke.
(4) Infantry support or covering party (Deckungstrupp) of varying
size. It may be only 2 or 4 men with 1 or 2 light machine guns, or as many
as 17 with light machine guns, heavy machine guns, 3-inch mortar, AT rifles, or
even an AT gun.
There is also usually:
(5) Supply party (Nachschubtrupp) of varying size, from the
infantry; often 15 men. For their function, see below. They may further
be used to carry reserve ammunition.
The following can also be included:
(6) Bridging party (Bruckentrupp) of 3 or 5 men. More than one party
may be taken. These may be engineers, or for simpler tasks, infantry; e.g. two
parties of 4 infantrymen may carry planks and ladders for crossing an antitank
ditch, and at the same time be responsible for carrying away captured
(7) Mine-searching party of 2 men with a pack radio set: this has only been
found in one very elaborate detachment.
Those taking part are armed partly with rifles, partly with pistols or
submachine guns. Ammunition is carried in the jacket pocket, not in pouches. All
are armed with hand grenades, which may be carried in a special haversack. Spades
and pickaxes are carried by some, and at least one Very pistol; panels are
sometimes carried for air-ground communication. The troops wear field-service
uniform with steel helmet and gasmask, and carry iron rations and
canteen. The remainder of their equipment is brought up by the supply party.
An assault detachment may total anywhere from 14 to 40 men, and sometimes as
many as 4 detachments may be sent out together. Detachments are organized
under battalion or company arrangements, according to the size of the
task. Engineers will be provided from the regimental pioneer platoon or from
the divisional engineer battalion: always from the latter, when flame-throwers
are used. Close-support weapons are allotted as necessary.
In action, the first task is a thorough reconnaissance. The assault is
planned in great detail, and the assault party depends for success on coordination
of the various arms supporting it. Once the attack commences, unified
command is impossible. It is therefore necessary that the assault should
be so organized as to run itself.
The course of a typical attack on concrete fortifications is as follows: The
attack is preceded by a short artillery concentration on the objectives. Then
the artillery puts down smoke, under cover of which infantry and their
supporting weapons get into position at short ranges. These supporting weapons
will include AT guns and possibly field guns, placed under command of the
infantry; as well as heavy machine guns, mortars, and infantry guns.
When the smoke clears, all weapons open fire on the loopholes allotted to
them; and under cover of this fire the infantry and engineers move to the assault.
The assault on casemates or pillboxes can be made in several ways; all
depend on the principle that if you are near enough to a casemate or pillbox, you
can get inside the angle of fire of its guns and be safe. Casemates however will
usually be placed so that they are covered by machine-gun fire from their
neighbors; and therefore they can only be attacked in this way either if
supporting fire keeps the embrasures of neighboring casemates shut, or if
more smoke is put down to isolate the particular fortification to be assaulted.
The actual attack on casemates may be made either with explosives or with flame-throwers.
Infantry can sometimes get close up under the embrasures and push
grenades inside. Engineers, who carry more powerful charges, can
blow up casemates and attack embrasures which they cannot reach by
mounting charges on the ends of poles. These pole charges are a
common engineer weapon. The infantry can improvise a similar charge by
tying the heads of six stick grenades around a complete central grenade.
Two sizes of flame-throwers are carried by the engineers. The range of
both is claimed to be about 30 yards, but may in practice be no more
than 20 yards. The smaller gives a jet for 10 seconds, the larger
for 25. The larger has to be hauled on a two-wheeled cart.