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"Lessons from German Infantry Operations" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following portions of the translation of a German Army High Command memorandum on infantry operations was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 16, Jan. 14, 1943.

[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 following report is an extract from the translation of a German Army High Command memorandum issued on December 18, 1940.

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a. Reconnaissance

(1) The principal reason for failure of a reconnaissance is the desire of commanders to push forward the attack. As long as the situation on both sides remains fluid, this is justified. In such cases, the best opportunity to attack will be lost if the results of reconnaissance are too long awaited. When an attack is launched against an enemy who is organized for defense, the time taken to prepare the attack is also advantageous to the defender. Commanders must therefore do their utmost to secure speed. However, the preparation of an attack demands time, which must be allowed if unnecessary losses and set-backs are to be avoided. This time must be thoroughly used for reconnaissance.

(2) The employment of over-weak patrols is partly due to previous teaching. For example, in our Infantry Training Manual, it is stated that "a few resolute men" suffice, and then again that "the minimum strength is generally a commander and two men". Almost all patrols in peacetime exercises were of this strength.

It is also the result of the attempt of company and platoon commanders to keep their troops together, and avoid weakening them prematurely. Experience shows that only combat patrols can carry out reconnaissance against an enemy organized for defense. Patrols formed of from one to two squads under the leadership of a platoon commander and supported by mortars and machine guns have proved successful. The squad is also the most self-contained unit for this purpose and, with four squads to a platoon, one that is always available.

b. Assault Detachments

(1) Formations in Approach and Attack

To secure superiority for the fire power of a rifle company, a large number of machine guns must be employed in the front line. In many cases troops were formed according to their departure from the assembly position, and retained this formation throughout the approach although the time to adopt battle formations had not yet arrived.

(2) Arrowhead Formations

The usual method of attack against a permanent position is to force a breakthrough in arrowhead formation with a strong spearhead. The objective of the arrowhead is the enemy's weak point, "wherever the tactical situation and ground offer the best chance of pushing home the attack swiftly." The strength and composition of the formation of the advancing company depend on cover for the approach, fire support, and the breadth of the objective.

All available heavy weapons, including those of reserve troops, should be brought up to lay down a concentration of fire in conjunction with the advance of the assaulting force.

Reserves are also brought up to the point of penetration. They approach the battle with assault and fire, keep the situation fluid, and extend the breach on either side.

It can thus be seen that the arrowhead formation is a development of the theory of concentration. The most important factor is not the formation of the company or battalion, but the coordination of all forces, assault, fire power, and reserves, against the chosen objective.

It is the duty of the tactical commander to decide how the sectors of the enemy position not directly assaulted are dealt with. If a battalion advances against its objective in arrowhead formation, with one rifle company forward, the stronger sectors of the enemy positions on the flanks are not at once engaged. The enemy can therefore often bring down unhindered enfilading fire upon the head of the attack. The fire of heavy weapons and of artillery will not usually suffice to neutralize these sectors. They can only be efficiently neutralized by direct attack. Hence the arrowhead must be extended to the flanks by the employment of patrols of fighting strength to attack the flanking position. The company forming the arrowhead, and the battalion, must be organized with this in mind.

(3) Concentration of Fire for Advance

Many reports emphasize the advantage of concentrated fire. There is nothing new in this. Battalion commanders should coordinate fire according to the tactical conditions. Stereotyped fire plans should be avoided.

Concentration of fire requires careful preparation. If all firing is forbidden during the preparation, the initiative, and therefore the spirit, of the junior officers is lowered. Even during the preparation, every company, and even every platoon, should exploit any opportunity of pressing forward, and even provide the needed impulse by concentration of fire.

Strong emphasis should be laid on the importance of careful timing of fire and movement. The combined fire of heavy weapons and artillery must coincide with the advance of infantry. It is the task of the battalion commander and all commanders of heavy weapons to push the advance steadily forward by means of concentration of fire. It is the task of all commanders and junior officers of rifle companies to bring up their men and push on as long as fire continues. The key to success lies in advancing under cover of friendly fire.

Both the concentration of fire and the advance under its cover must be practiced as a drill.

(4) Concentration of Fire--Heavy Weapons of Reserve Units

Fire is concentrated on the point of penetration. All heavy weapons must prepare to combine fire on targets which obstruct the line of advance, and after that on the objective. The battalion commander orders the exact time at which the fire is to be concentrated, in accordance with the considerations discussed above. The regimental commander increases the concentration, where possible, by employing the heavy weapons of the reserve battalions as well as by appropriate cooperation with the artillery.

c. Fighting in Woods

An attack through thickly wooded country imposes special battle tasks on commanders and troops. It demands careful preparation and timing.

Quick successes can be won by good observation, cunning, and surprise attacks. When the enemy is encountered suddenly, he must be attacked with the bayonet immediately.

In large, thick woods, with heavy undergrowth, reconnaissance patrols of fighting strength must be sent out to force the enemy to open fire and disclose the whereabouts of his well-camouflaged positions.

The spearhead of the attack, which follows the reconnaissance element, must be liberally equipped with close-combat weapons, automatic pistols, and if there is thick undergrowth, with axes. Single heavy weapons, and antitank and infantry guns are brought up close behind the leading elements to clean out weak centers of resistance from clearings and paths. Strong centers of resistance should be passed by, and left to the following units. If this is impossible, they must be carefully reconnoitered and assaulted with the support of heavy weapons.

Loud cheering and the sounding of the "Charge!" when assaulting troops break through confuse the enemy and facilitate cooperation between friendly troops.

The foremost attacking parties penetrate the enemy position in arrowhead formations. They are followed, at distances determined by the ground and the tactical situation, by rifle companies which comb the woods and clean up the ground captured.

Protection must be secured for the flanks.

Snipers in trees can be dealt with effectively by raking the tree-tops with machine-gun fire.

     /s/ von Brauchitsch

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