It is both foolish and dangerous for anyone to go to
extremes in appraising the junior officers of the
German Army. To say that German junior leadership
is "weak" would be untrue. But to say that it has
demonstrated "instances of weakness" in the past is
an entirely valid statement. The German Army
attempts to correct such faults as soon as they become
apparent. In Tunisia, for example, General von
Arnim issued to his commanders a constructive order,
which discloses a number of errors that they had been
making. He prefaced the order with this comment:
"In recent operations, apart from the outstanding
conduct of certain officers and men, many self-evident
principles of tactics and command seem to have been
In considering the following extracts from the order,
the reader will have no trouble in detecting the faults
that General von Arnim was determined to overcome.
It is reasonable to suppose that the enemy may again
display, in other combat areas, various tendencies
indicated here. In any event, it is an advantage to
know the opinion of a high-ranking German officer
regarding the deficiencies apparent within his
2. "EXPLAIN THE PLAN"
a. Before an action every unit commander [in the Fifth
Panzer Army] must try to give his men the broad picture so
far as it affects the missions of the company and the battalion.
b. Unless the soldier has been informed about the plan, he will
fight without enthusiasm or understanding, and will become
confused in crises.
c. Unless a patrol knows the broad picture, it will be unable
to make the most of what it observes within the enemy lines.
d. Unless signalmen and runners know the broad picture, they
cannot maintain their contacts properly.
e. During battle every commander must try to keep his
subordinate commanders informed regarding the progress of the
fighting. If it is impossible for him to give the broad picture,
he must at least inform them regarding the progress of his own
unit. In turn, subordinate commanders will pass this information
along to their men.
a. When a decision must be achieved, it is impossible to be
too strong. That is, at the point where a decision is to be
brought about, one's forces must be concentrated--but not bunched.
b. Flank protection by small detachments a considerable
distance away is worthless; the opposition can destroy these
detachments one at a time. Instead, flank protection should be
afforded by close flanking columns--echeloned toward the rear,
if necessary. A battalion and a half may well attack on a
2,000-yard front, but never on a 7,000-yard front. Attacks in
divergent directions are employed only for feints.
c. A concentration must never be permitted within a sector
dominated by the opposition. Concentrations must not only be
covered, but protected from the air.
d. Unless reconnaissance has been extensive and thorough,
there is always a chance that one will unexpectedly run into
hostile fire. Reconnaissance should be conducted by sectors, and
from ridge to ridge (including reconnaissance for future
observation posts), in exactly the same way in which the attack is
divided into bounds so that support weapons can be brought
forward in time.
e. Before every action an assault detachment precedes the
rest of the company, which is deployed in depth. Support
weapons should be well forward, to give prompt assistance. The
forward observers for support weapons and artillery must be
very far forward; an infantry detachment must be assigned to
protect them against surprise attacks.
f. As soon as a position has been taken, it must immediately
be consolidated against counterattacks (including air attack)
by means of:
(1) Reconnaissance of the position to which the hostile force
has withdrawn and reconnaissance of the nearest hostile force on
our own [German] axis of advance.
(2) Readiness of machine guns, with sentries performing
half-hour tours, especially on the flanks.
(3) Dispersion of the troops taking part in the consolidation
(so as not to provide the opposition with targets for artillery or
air attack); rapid replacement of ammunition, and short breaks
for messing, maintaining equipment, and so on.
g. It is a matter of honor for one arm to help another--for
example, infantry covering disabled tanks and giving protection
while brief recovery jobs are being undertaken. At night,
tanks are blind, and must have infantry protection against
tank-hunting detachments (often the crew alone will not be adequate
for this). Artillery pieces and mortars in exposed positions
must also be protected by infantry.
h. Ground cooperation with dive bombers has always worked
well in cases where tracer fire or guiding smoke has been used
4. ORDERS AND REPORTS
a. Too little use has been made of brief warning orders, which
prepare our troops, make reconnaissance of approach routes
possible, and sometimes speed up the departure by hours. It
must be remembered that preparations for the attack and the
defense, especially when the fighting is to take place in
mountainous terrain, call for different equipment.
b. Written orders will be given only above regimental level.
On and below this level, verbal orders will be given--and in the
prescribed sequence so that salient points can be written down.
c. It is impossible to be of assistance to subordinate commanders
unless adequate reports from the front line have been
received. Reports received in the past have hardly ever mentioned
the exact time when events occurred or when things
were seen. Often a place has not been identified, except by a
system of private map references unknown to others. Intelligence
about the opposition is almost always omitted--exact details
about the hostile force, its positions, and its movements.
In instances in which a United Nations force has attempted an
outflanking move, reports have failed to mention which of our
flanks was involved and in which direction the hostile force was
moving. How can the higher commander help his subordinates
under such circumstances?
a. The nearer the front, the shorter the communication routes
b. A battalion headquarters must be close enough to the rear
of its companies to permit a runner from a company commander
to reach it in not more than 10 minutes. A regimental headquarters
must be no more than 2,000 yards to the rear of its
battalion headquarters--if possible, on a level with them and in
a position from which it can observe the battlefield.
c. It is best for a battalion headquarters and the regimental
headquarters to move forward along a main field telephone line,
which has a direct wire to the company command post at the
decisive point. In any event, the company commander will be
at the decisive point for intercommunication within the battalion
and the regiment. The units flanking him to the right and left
will be maintaining contact with him, anyway, as a matter of
d. Every effort must be made to rush important reports to the
rear. This Army cannot be of assistance if a crisis is not
reported until 24 hours after it has occurred!
e. In forwarding reports about purely local matters (weather,
casualties, exhaustion of personnel, hostile artillery fire, and so
on), all commanders must refrain from wording them too pessimistically
or so coloring them as to influence the higher command in a
certain direction. A course which appears favorable for one
sector may prove disastrous for the situation as a whole.