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German Tactical Doctrine, Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 8, December 20, 1942
[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the wartime U.S. War Department publication. 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 attack may be launched (a) from one direction against front, flank, or rear; (b) from several directions simultaneously; (c) after penetration, into a new direction.


The frontal attack is the most frequent form of attack, but mechanized and motorized weapons will decrease this frequency. It requires superiority in strength and produces decisive results only when the hostile front is penetrated.

The enveloping attack (envelopment) is the most effective form of maneuver, and if aggressively employed deep in the hostile flank or rear, it can result in a most decisive victory, or even annihilation of the enemy. An envelopment of both flanks presumes marked superiority in means. Wide envelopments are more effective than close-in. Among the factors that contribute to successful envelopments are deception, concentration of strength at the critical point, available reserves, mobility, and simplicity of maneuver. As to surprise, the enemy must not be given the time necessary to take countermeasures. As to mass, strength must be concentrated on the flank of the envelopment so that hostile extension of the line can be overrun or circumvented, and hostile defensive moves quickly and effectively frustrated. As to fixing the enemy, the hostile forces in the front must be contained simultaneously with the enveloping attack.19

The penetration is an attack where the maneuver is intended to split or separate the hostile line of resistance. The following considerations contribute to success: selection of a favorable point (a weak part of the enemy position, or favorable terrain); surprise (such as feints at other points, or secrecy in concentration of strength); breadth of penetration (preferable a base as wide as the depth of the penetration or wider); depth in organization (to exploit breaking through, and to check hostile counterattacks); rapid and full exploitation of the break-through.

The limited objective attack is a form of maneuver intended to win important terrain features, to contain the enemy frontally, or to stop the hostile advance. Organization in depth is not required.


Some important general considerations for an attack are the following: (a) Obtain unity of command and action; avoid piecemeal attacks. (b) Establish a main effort. (c) Assign narrow zones of action. (d) Reinforce fire by additional artillery and heavy infantry weapons. (e) Coordinate and intensify the fire of all weapons. (f) Make timely employment of tanks and reserves. (g) Exploit successes quickly and fully even though the location of the main effort may properly have to be changed.20 (h) Recognize the crisis in a battle and react appropriately.

Be alert to every advantage, to each success no matter how small, to any mistakes made by the enemy--and exploit these to the fullest degree. If the attack appears definitely stopped by strong hostile resistance at a certain point, further success may be better accomplished by injecting fresh troops, by concentrating fires on a different area, or by changing the disposition of troops.


The width of a zone of action is dependent upon terrain and mission. A battalion of infantry with both flanks protected is assigned a zone of action 400 to 1,000 meters (roughly 440 to 1,100 yards) wide. An infantry division in a meeting engagement where terrain is favorable for employment of supporting weapons, is assigned a zone of action 4,000 to 5,000 meters (4,400 to 5,500 yards) wide; but an infantry division having both flanks protected and making the main effort against a strong hostile position is assigned a zone of action of 3,000 meters (3,281 yards).

A definite objective or direction must be indicated for the attack. Although zones of action are prescribed, they need not be completely filled with troops. For divisions and larger units, these zones are selected from the map; for the smaller units, they are determined by inspection of the terrain itself. The boundaries are extended deep enough into hostile territory to preclude mixing of units for the duration of the day's operation. Strongpoints and difficult terrain must be included within a unit's zone of action and not located on its boundary line. Frequently only the designation of an objective is required in order to maintain direction and to preclude mixing of organizations.

Do not include too much detail in the attack order and thus restrict initiative. The mission must be clear--what to do, but not how to do it.

The important task of all weapons is to enable the infantry to close with the enemy and to drive deep into his position in order to crush all resistance or to annihilate him. This end can be accomplished only if the hostile automatic weapons and artillery are neutralized or destroyed. Coordination between infantry and artillery must at all times and in all situations be carefully arranged.

When tanks and infantry are operating together, they both should be initially assigned the same objective, namely, the hostile artillery. Tanks can often attack from a different direction. The coordination of other weapons of the division attacking with tanks is based on the activities of the latter. The division commander is responsible for such coordination. Artillery supports the tank attack by firing upon antitank weapons, blinding hostile observation, and neutralizing villages and edges of woods. Artillery fire must be carefully observed and controlled to preclude firing upon friendly tanks and advancing troops. Engineer troops remove tank obstacles and assist tank units forward. The air force provides connection between the fast-moving tank units, the division, and the artillery. Combat aviation may be employed to neutralize antitank weapons.

Antiaircraft troops protect the deployment of troops, positions of readiness, artillery positions, and battle reconnaissance planes. The main effort must receive the bulk of antiaircraft protection. Gas may be used against artillery and reserves, and in connection with road blocks or blockades on an open flank. The communications net will be based upon the plan of maneuver; separate nets for artillery and infantry will be established, the artillery net having priority.


The plan of attack will be determined by the situation, the morale of the enemy, and the extent of his defensive works. Approach to the hostile position may be possible only under cover of darkness. If the position cannot be turned or enveloped, then a penetration must be made through some point in the front. The employment of inadequate force and means leads to severe reverses.

Careful plans for the attack must include the necessary information about the enemy and the terrain?21 Thorough reconnaissance must be conducted by the officers of all arms, but reconnaissance parties must be kept restricted in size. Air reconnaissance is of particular value. Observation and listening posts must be established. Limited-objective attacks, strong combat patrols, and similar methods may be necessary to gain the information desired.

The location of the main effort will be determined by friendly intentions, the situation, the defensive strength of the hostile position, the covered approaches, and the observation for supporting weapons, particularly the artillery. In selecting a place for a penetration or breakthrough, consider the following points:

(a) Find out how the attack can be further developed after the initial break-through. (b) Insure sufficient room for maneuver. (c) Avoid natural strongpoints or envelop them. (d) Locate favorable terrain for the employment of tanks. (e) Capture points or areas that will give good observation deep into hostile positions. (f) Designate close or far-distant objectives according to the size of the attacking unit: if the final objective cannot be reached in one advance, designate intermediate objectives involving in some cases limited-objective attacks.


Under the protection of advance infantry units, the artillery will be brought forward. Prompt reconnaissance of the terrain must be carefully made by artillery officers in small groups. If possible, positions for the batteries should be so placed that the artillery mission may be carried out without change of locations. Ammunition supply, observation, hostile position, communications, alternate positions, and range must all be considered, and any necessary preparations carried out in advance. The distribution of the artillery will be determined by its mission. Units will usually be employed intact; it may, however, be necessary to detach batteries, particularly the heavy artillery. In very narrow division sectors, for example, heavy howitzer batteries may be taken away from divisions to operate against distant targets under corps.

The initial mission of the artillery may include any or all of the following: firing upon important targets in the battlefield, drawing the fire of hostile artillery, engaging in counterbattery work against hostile artillery and antiaircraft batteries as early as possible, and firing upon large hostile group movements at maximum ranges and as promptly as possible.


The following considerations for an infantry "position of readiness" may be listed as follows:

(a) Avoid too close proximity to the enemy position in cases where no cover is available to friendly troops. (b) If the enemy has previously offered strong resistance in the fighting, if there is reason to avoid premature entrance into the effective hostile defensive area, or if the enemy situation in the main battle position is not clarified, have the troops partially developed before they are conducted forward in their respective zones of action. (c) Avoid hostile air and ground obstruction by prohibiting large assemblies in restricted areas, by exploiting all ground folds and available cover, and by approaching immediately prior to the jump-off as close to the hostile position as cover permits. (d) Select the infantry jump-off position as close as possible to the hostile position in order to permit the artillery to push well forward and carry out its mission without changing location.22 (e) Establish local security with infantry detachments. (f) Gain sufficient depth by drawing out and retaining reserves to the rear. (g) If the forces going into the position of readiness are scheduled to make a close-in envelopment, insure that the position is a sufficient distance off to the side to preclude the enveloping force advancing into and mixing with other friendly troops on the flank, when the attack is launched.


The infantry action up to the first assault is carried out under the support of artillery and heavy infantry weapons. If exceptionally strong artillery support is available, the infantry can more freely advance against the enemy position; if the artillery support is not strong, however, then the infantry must advance cautiously. In the latter case, moving forward under cover of darkness or of smoke, the infantry takes advantage of cover to avoid hostile observation and of defiladed ground to avoid hostile fire.

The infantry attack begins with the advance of the light weapons under cover of the fire of artillery and heavy infantry weapons. Part of the latter should be pushed forward with the initial echelons to insure continual close support. Riflemen work forward through the use of fire and movement. Local fire superiority must be exploited to the fullest degree to capture ground. Those units or parts of units which cannot advance farther should dig in and hold tenaciously the ground already won. When weak points in the hostile position are found, they should be attacked aggressively and with reserves. Thus a push forward can be made. Against consolidated and extensive defensive works on the other hand, the infantry may struggle for days, working slowly forward. Trenches and terrain may be won, lost, and rewon during the course of the action.


The effectiveness of counterbattery missions directed by the artillery commander depends upon observation and available ammunition. Neutralization was often accomplished in World War I by a simultaneous concentration of several batteries using gas shells. Initially many batteries may be concealed in a firing position awaiting the opportunity to surprise the enemy. When new hostile batteries are discovered or additional enemy forces23 are located,. then concentrated fire may be delivered upon them with these batteries. This method is much more economical in ammunition than continual fire of all artillery against apparent but not definitely identified targets.

As the situation develops and clarifies, artillery fire can be switched from the manifestly less important targets to the more important areas. The infantry will sometimes be unavoidably delayed in its advance by reason of changes in the infantry-artillery plan of coordination. There will be situations in which many hostile batteries will not be located until friendly infantry has pushed forward and drawn fire.


At the disposal of the commander, the reserves follow beyond range of hostile fire. When the terrain permits, their advance should be made by bounds from cover to cover.


a. Penetration of the Hostile Position

The timing of the assault is determined either by the forward echelons or by the commander himself. No hard and fast rule can be applied. Should the foremost units recognize the opportunity to push through, they must take full and quick advantage, calling upon supporting weapons for intensified fire to support their assault. When the infantry is observed advancing rapidly on the hostile position, this increased support may under certain circumstances occur automatically. Should the commander order the assault--avoiding an elaborate plan--he must quickly concentrate his strength at the point of penetration.

b. Time of Attack

Daybreak is often considered the most favorable time to gain surprise for the attack. War experience indicates, however, that daybreak is the time of highest alertness, and it is better to change continually the hour of attack. The time of attack should usually be postponed if the artillery has not completed all of its preparations. An attack against a position must be supported by artillery which is fully prepared to carry out its missions. In order to penetrate a stubbornly defended main line of resistance, concentrations of fire by all weapons must be arranged.

c. Enemy Withdrawals

If the enemy withdraws to rearward positions (a move generally accomplished at night), the following action should be taken: (a) Maintain close contact with the hostile infantry. (b) Promptly reconnoiter the new hostile positions. (c) Move the artillery well forward. (d) Prepare for hostile counterattacks. (e) On the following day, push rapidly forward with all force; compel the enemy to stand and fight, to take flight, or to suffer destruction.


If the enemy has had only a short time in which to prepare his defensive position, if the morale of the enemy is shaken, or if the possibility of surprise is introduced, the preparations for attacking a position may be shortened to limited reconnaissance, more rapid development and preparation by the artillery, and employment of tanks and smoke screens.

If the enemy resorts to delaying action, the response should be to break through his line at one point and exploit the break with strong force, and to press closely upon the withdrawing hostile troops.

If the enemy falls behind the cover of a very strong position, the direction or location of the main effort should be changed. Knowledge of the terrain will permit advance planning in this maneuver. More artillery, tanks, and engineer troops should be moved well forward, and minimum requirements should be established in the communication system. If the enemy succeeds in falling back upon an entirely new and very strong defensive position, a regrouping of the attacking forces and new plans may be required.

If the attack continues until nightfall without producing decisive results, the regrouping of the command should be carried on under cover of darkness. The day's battle experience may indicate a new point for the main effort, and the order for attack should be issued just as early as possible. Reconnaissance must be energetic and continued, for the enemy will also make changes in his disposition during darkness. Night attacks are useful in determining hostile intentions and movements, in seizing favorable positions for the following day's jump-off, and in obtaining observation. Harassing fire by the artillery and air night-bombing attacks should be scheduled. Artillery support may not be possible at dawn of the following day, unless the exact enemy positions have been located. Only then can the artillery deliver unobserved supporting fires. Sufficient light for artillery observations should be awaited in preference to sending the infantry forward unsupported. Artillery on other fronts may be fired for deceptive purposes during the interval of waiting.

Passing over to the defense from the attack may be a necessary prelude to holding captured ground, or may be ordered by higher authority. Troops in either case are reorganized, and unnecessary forces withdrawn. Artillery must protect the relief of friendly infantry by heavy concentrations and counterbattery fire.


a. Speed and Surprise

In a meeting engagement, it is possible (though improbable with modern far-reaching reconnaissance and intelligence means) that the first information of the presence of the enemy will be received through actual contact. Initially the situation is vague and the security of both forces uncertain. A meeting engagement must not be permitted to develop into a wild rush upon the hostile position; a coordinated plan must be carried out calmly, but so accelerated as to carry out the following considerations: (a) Seize the initiative and fix the hostile force insofar as the situation permits. (b) Expedite preparations for the attack, quickly occupying ground favorable for observation, development, and advance, and for supporting weapons. (c) Intensify reconnaissance, ground and air, to determine promptly the enemy's dispositions, strength, intentions, and weaknesses. (d) Surprise the enemy, principally by rapidity of movement and by screening your troops and movements prior to entrance into battle.

b. Time and Space

The advance guard of each march column must provide time and space for development by the main body. An energetic advance under cover of the advance guard artillery often seizes important terrain features to the front and flanks, and fixes the hostile force. By extending over a broad front with its infantry and artillery, the advance guard can deceive the enemy relative to strength and movements.

c. Coordination

In a meeting engagement in open terrain and when the enemy has excellent observation, it is necessary to develop and prepare for combat much earlier than otherwise. The location of the main effort is promptly communicated to the various columns, and they deploy in keeping with the general plan in order to insure coordination of effort. The prompt employment of additional artillery support should be coordinated with the general scheme of maneuver.

d. Methods

In attacking during a meeting engagement, alternative methods exist for utilizing the main body: (a) prompt employment as the units of the march columns reach the immediate combat area; (b) development, and occupation of a position of readiness from which the attack will be launched. In the first case, the units will be issued individual orders as they arrive.24 All unit commanders must insure coordination between their infantry and supporting weapons. In the second case, the attack will be conducted similarly to an attack against an enemy in position. It will not be advantageous to push through an attack immediately if the terrain is difficult or if the employment of the mass of the force on the same day is no longer possible. The action of neighboring units must also be taken into consideration.


The absolute disregard of all factors except the annihilation of the hostile force will govern the conduct of the pursuit. The most important principles involved are to harass continually the hostile force in front and on the flanks, and to block the avenues of retreat. It is most important that the intention of the enemy to withdraw be promptly recognized.25 When such recognition becomes definite, the commander will immediately employ all available force and spare no effort in order to annihilate the enemy. Premature pursuit can result disastrously; on the other hand, if the withdrawing enemy is permitted time in which to break off combat, an opportunity for decisive victory may be lost; the commander must therefore carefully consider the situation and evaluate the information prior to committing his troops to the pursuit. Commanders of subordinate units in the forward echelon push energetically forward when the enemy gives way. The presence of higher commanders in these forward units spurs the troops to greater effort.

Some of the important considerations for conducting successful pursuits are: (a) Employ air force units against large bodies of hostile retreating troops; use reconnaissance planes to determine direction of withdrawal and use diving attacks with machine guns and bombs upon troops and matériel in marching columns, especially in defiles and against bridges. (b) Employ artillery in harassing missions. Let part of the long-range artillery pound vigorously on potential avenues of withdrawal, roads, etc., and keep the bulk of the artillery leap-frogging rapidly, pressing close behind the friendly infantry to render support. (c) Employ infantry in pushing rapidly forward literally on the heels of the withdrawing enemy; assign distant objectives in the direction of the withdrawal; have the heavy infantry weapons follow closely the forward echelon; and give the enemy no time to organize a defense. (d) Employ engineers to repair roads in the rear of the pursuing forces, to remove obstacles, and to neutralize gassed areas.

While the frontal attack is vigorously carried out, enveloping forces of great mobility26 will operate from flank and rear against the hostile retreating columns. Defiles, bridges, and favorable observation deep in rear of the enemy will be seized, and avenues of retreat cut off. If the enemy succeeds in organizing a delaying position, a coordinated attack must be promptly arranged and launched.

Commanders must insure a continual flow of supplies for the rapidly advancing units. In pursuit, matters of supply and evacuation require particularly careful supervision.

Pursuing troops must maintain contact with the enemy, and must report back frequently to headquarters their own locations. If the pursuit continues into the night, infantry units push forward along the roads. Artillery continues long-range harassing fire, while individual batteries follow the infantry in close proximity for rendering immediate support.27

19 This may be accomplished by point attack (which is both effective, and economical in troops), by frontal attack (which involves employment of considerable force and thereby reduces the troops available for the main effort), and by attack with limited objective (which requires a smaller force and releases more troops for the main effort).
20 For example, in passing an obstacle--river or mountain chain--the main effort may be switched during the progress of the operation because of a break-through in an unexpected point.
21 The following points should be clarified: Where are the enemy's advanced positions, outpost lines, main line of resistance, switch positions, reserves, and observation posts? Where does the terrain favor the approach and the attack? Where has the enemy employed gas and obstacles?
22 When the terrain and available cover do not permit the close approach of the infantry, the artillery must be echeloned to the rear and prepared to support the infantry advance on the enemy position.
23 Artillery engages the hostile infantry which is fighting on the flank or in front of friendly infantry.
24 The situation may so develop that the immediate employment of units as they arrive will not be necessary. The remainder will then be first moved into positions of readiness.
25 Clues may be derived from airplane reports of rearward movements of trains, supply, echelons, and reserves; from reports from friendly troops; and from patrolling, particularly at night, and miscellaneous signal interceptions.
26 Motorized infantry, mounted troops, motorized engineers, and antitank and antiaircraft units.
27 Artillery firing at night under such conditions is, of course, map firing.

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