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"Notes on German Divisional Artillery" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military report on the organization and tactics of German divisional artillery is taken from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 6, August 27, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The organization of the German divisional artillery, like that of our own, includes three battalions of 105-mm. howitzers, which ordinarily operate in direct support of the three infantry regiments, and one medium battalion. The medium battalion is composed of 2 batteries of 150-mm. howitzers and 1 battery of 100-mm. guns, and operates in general support of the division. There is also an infantry cannon company composed of six 75-mm. howitzers and two 150-mm. howitzers. In addition, in each armored and motorized division as well as certain assault infantry divisions, there is one armored assault artillery battalion composed of three 4-gun companies armed with self-propelled 75-mm. or 105-mm. howitzers.

In addition to this artillery there is in every division an artillery observation battalion which is composed of a sound-ranging battery and a flash-ranging battery (each separable into 2 independent platoons), a survey battery, a reproduction platoon, a signal platoon, and a meteorological section. This battalion works directly under the division artillery commander.

In general, the tactics and technique of German artillery are very similar to our own, but a recent report on cooperation between German artillery and other arms brings out several interesting divergences as well as some slight differences in emphasis.

All artillery orders are given orally at first; later those of the regiment and the division, particularly the latter, are confirmed and expanded in writing. The divisional artillery commander's order is not issued as an annex to the division order, but as a separate artillery order. Great stress is placed on the use of fragmentary and warning orders, and the Germans also emphasize that wherever possible orders should be given on terrain affording suitable observation rather than by reference to a map.

Counterbattery missions of the divisional medium artillery are heavily stressed. While counterbattery is primarily the task of the medium battalion, the other three battalions may often take over this function. The presence of the observation battalion is one of the reasons for emphasis on counterbattery as a divisional artillery function.

Great emphasis is also placed on the battalion as the fire-control unit, and the separation of the battalion into independent batteries to be used as attached artillery is never recommended except in extremely large sectors, or under very difficult terrain conditions such as thick woods.

In the preparation and conduct of fire, simplicity of technique is the goal. Generally a standard method is prescribed and followed, and variations are discouraged. This is typical of all German technique in that they deliberately adopt a simple method which will fit the large majority of cases, and consider that the gain in simplicity is more important than the loss of several highly refined techniques, each suitable for only a few complex situations. Reciprocal laying with the aiming circle is apparently the method most frequently used. It should be noted that this standardization of technique is in contrast to the general tactical doctrine of the Germans, which insists upon the uniqueness of each problem and the necessity for working out a complete and independent solution rather than applying a rigid prearranged formula.

Communications are normally by wire, and the use of radio is limited to periods of displacement. The one exception to this is the radio communication between observation posts and gun positions.

In preparation fires each battery normally covers one or more targets, each about 110 to 165 yards in width. At all times emphasis is placed on flexibility of fire plan and procedure, particularly by using irregular surprise fires on infantry and artillery, and on enemy command posts, as well as on the point of intended penetration.

The following table shows the maximum rates of fire consistent with efficient maintenance of materiel:

Weapons    Short bursts
(rounds per minute)
    Prolonged fire
(rounds per minute)
100-mm. gun51 1/2
105-mm. howitzer62 1/2
150-mm. howitzer41 1/3

Except in unusual circumstances the artillery "reserve" consists of a large supply of ammunition rather than uncommitted units.

In order to secure greater effect against personnel in the open, ricochet fire is deliberately sought by use of delayed fuse. With light howitzers ricochet is believed to be always obtainable up to an angle of impact of 270 mils, and usually obtainable up to 360 mils. The adjustment is secured with quick fuse, and fire for effect is conducted with delayed fuse. If for any reason the ricochet fire does not prove effective, fire for effect is continued with quick fuse.

The Germans believe in a "lone gun", placed at a sufficient distance from the rest of the battery so as to appear to be an entirely different position. This gun is used for harassing fire, fire against high targets, determination of weather corrections, and finally to deceive the hostile observation as to the true position of the battery.

It is essential that supported infantry commanders be generally familiar with the characteristics, capabilities, and limitations of artillery in order to secure most effective cooperation. They must understand: that the effectiveness of artillery depends to a great extent on the neutralization of enemy artillery, and that consequently some of the fire must be employed on counterbattery missions; that the ammunition supply is limited, and the laying of heavy concentrations on important areas means a loss of fire on less important ones; that the artillery should engage only those targets which justify its heavy fire; and finally that unnecessary or too hasty requests divert artillery from its principal missions and destroy mutual confidence.

One factor which insures that infantry commanders will be familiar with artillery capabilities and limitations is the presence of the infantry cannon company in the infantry regiment. This cannon company's presence also has several other effects. First of all, it settles the problem of the accompanying gun. Second, artillery is relieved of many small but difficult direct-support missions and is released for its larger missions. Third, and most important, it lessens the artillery-infantry gap which liaison officers are intended to bridge, since it means that the liaison is not between two distinct and separate units of artillery and infantry, but rather between the regular artillery of the supporting battalion and an infantry unit which already has organic artillery weapons. There is coordination of fire plans as well as mutual observation by the cannon company and the artillery. Also the divisional observation battalion lends its assistance the infantry cannon company.

It is essential that the infantry regimental and battalion commanders assist their cooperating artillery commander by continually informing him of the infantry plan of action, the infantry's progress, and its need for artillery support.

Infantry company, battalion, and regimental commanders are made "artillery minded" by being constantly trained to rely on artillery support to the utmost.

A very important function of the infantry is to seize and hold the forward locations necessary for artillery observation, thereby facilitating the artillery support. Likewise, the infantry should be informed of the positions of the artillery forward observers, observation posts, and command posts.

Finally, the closest support between the two arms is secured by having forward artillery observers operate with the advance infantry units. Forward observers with pack radio sets are believed to be the only effective means of obtaining satisfactory observation. Sets are used both by individual batteries and by battalions, and quite often the battery commander himself will act as forward observer, particularly at the beginning of an engagement when he is not familiar with the terrain. Alternate positions for all observation posts are stressed, and, as one of our observers reports "It is impossible to exaggerate the emphasis German doctrine puts on movement of observation posts and improvement of observation."

COMMENT: In summation the above article points out the following noteworthy features of German divisional artillery:

1. Early counterbattery fire by divisional artillery.

2. Use of battalion as a unit.

3. No set pattern for fire plan in preparations.

4. Ricochet fire.

5. Use of roving gun for registration, harassing fire, and deception.

6. Education of commanders of supported units as to value of--
a. Neutralizing enemy artillery.
b. Conservation of ammunition for important missions.
c. Necessity for observation.

7. Close support through forward observers with advanced infantry, rather than through liaison detachments with supported unit commander.


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