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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.]


All arrangements pertaining to a march should be based upon the premise that the mass of the force must arrive at the new destination with the minimum effort and the maximum secrecy. When contact with the enemy is imminent, the march formation should favor easy and rapid development for combat. When contact is unlikely, the comfort of the command is the important consideration. In view of modern air developments, movements under cover of darkness will be the rule rather than the exception. There will be circumstances requiring day marches, however; or they may be safely undertaken when the weather precludes hostile air activity.


The command should be marched in multiple columns, using all available routes, thereby saving the strength of the troops, affording better protection against air attacks, and maintaining the command in such formation as to facilitate development for combat. The following considerations, however, prevail: (a) Organization in depth permits freedom of maneuver. (b) Echelonmnent of some columns on the open flank affords protection or facilitates later envelopment of the hostile flank when the enemy is fixed in the front. (c) The strength of columns and the location of stronger columns will be determined by the whereabouts of the enemy and by the tactical plan, as influenced by the terrain. (d) If the situation is initially too vague to determine such dispositions, then several weak columns should be marched into aggressive action against the enemy to clarify the situation; the mass of the force may then follow in one or more columns. (e) The width of the advance should not be so broad as to preclude the building up of a main effort when contact with the enemy is made. (f) Zones of advance with boundaries should be indicated. (g) And, lastly, transmission of orders and reports must be carefully organized.


The division sometimes cannot avoid marching in a single column. The great disadvantage is the extraordinary length, which precludes assembling for a coordinated effort in 1 day. An advantage of the single column over multiple columns is greater security and flexibility for changing direction.


The movements of large forces are protected by antiaircraft precautions, particularly at initial points, river crossings, and defiles. Antiaircraft batteries advancing by bounds are set out in advance to front and flanks to provide protection at these critical points. The commander must insure that antiaircraft units have priority on roads. The danger from air attacks during daylight is greatly reduced by the following appropriate methods:

Increasing the depth of march columns.--At the command Fliegermarschtiefe! (air defense depth), the troop units, horse-drawn elements, and other vehicles double the distances normally maintained on the march. Simultaneously it is indicated whether security forces, such as flank or advance guards, maintain, increase, or decrease distances. Arrangements are made for air defense depth, if circumstances require such precaution, at the beginning of the march; or rest periods may be used to increase or decrease distances. With short march columns, extension or retraction are also accomplished during the march.

Increasing the breadth of march columns.--At the command Fliegermarschbreite! (air defense breadth), the troops spread out, using both sides of a highway or even expanding into the adjacent fields. The formation invariably imposes march difficulties upon the troops and is avoided whenever possible. When troops are already marching in air defense depth, it is seldom necessary to require the additional precaution of marching in air defense breadth.

Dividing a column.--Very long columns marching along a single route are broken up into several short groups with between 1 and 3-kilometer (1/2- to 2-mile) intervals.

Disposing of the motorized units.--The motorized units of the infantry division, except the reconnaissance battalion or units employed on security missions, arec divided into groups and follow the various columns, advancing by bounds. If the situation permits, they are organized into a motorized column and marched on a special road. Motor vehicles are also marched in the intervals between the advance guard and the main body, and between units of the main body.

Averting hostile planes.--Upon the approach of hostile planes, air guards promptly sound the warning, using pre-arranged signals. Marching troops throw themselves down on, or off to the sides of, the road. Motor vehicles halt, and their drivers set the brakes. Mounted troops clear the road and continue the march under available cover. Antiaircraft weapons immediately fire upon the hostile planes, but riflemen do not fire unless a plane comes within range. Frequently the troops are put in readiness to withstand a simultaneous air and gas attack. At night, if flares are employed by the hostile fliers, foot soldiers throw themselves to the ground off the roadside. Everyone else and all vehicles remain absolutely motionless while antiaircraft artillery provides defense.


Although night marches initially tax the strength of troops, this disadvantage is minimized after troops become adjusted to resting in dayvbivouacs and eating regularly on a changed schedule. Night marches have decided advantages: they deny altogether or restrict materially hostile ground and air reconnaissance, and by keeping the enemy ignorant, they contribute to surprise; also, night marches bring troops into position for battle with fewer losses and consequently higher morale.

In spite of the fact that main highways are often illuminated with flares by hostile aviators, it is frequently necessary to utilize highways for marches. If many alternative parallel routes are available, the principal highways are avoided, or utilized by motor elements only.

The hour of assembly at the beginning of the march should come after dark in order to preclude observation by hostile planes. Troops are formed as for a day march without extension of distance or expansion of width for air defense; but the security forces are drawn in somewhat closer, and distances between units are slightly increased to insure sufficient buffer room. Double connecting files; sent by the principal unit to the subordinate unit, or from the rear unit to the forward unit, are liberally used to maintain contact. The order of march is similar to the arrangement for a day march. If the tactical situation permits, foot troops precede the mounted troops.

On good roads and by starlight or moonlight, the rate of march is practically the same as that of a day march. On poor roads or in heavy darkness, the rate decreases to 3 kilometers (just under 2 miles) per hour and even less. Bicycle troops and motorized units also march appreciably slower by night than by day. It is advisable to arrange short rests--about 10 minutes in every hour; long rest periods tend to make the troops sleepy.

The alert commander does not march his troops directly into bivouac if daylight is about to arrive. He halts them in an available covered area and arranges to have them divided into small groups before the troops march on to bivouac or other destination.


When contact with the enemy is at all possible, the commander must march his command during the day with "preparedness for combat" as the foremost consideration. When contact with the enemy is not imminent, the commander can divide his command and march the various units on several routes. When time is not pressing, the movement also can be carried out in small groups over long periods of time. In any case, the first consideration in a day march is tactical; but the possibilities of cover should not be overlooked. The stronger columns should be marched over the routes offering the most cover, while the weaker can be sent over the more open routes. The time of departure on a day march is influenced by the situation, the weather, the season, the length of the intended march, the condition of the troops, and other factors. It is desirable to march from an old bivouac area under cover of darkness and reach a new one by daylight.


Infantry marches in columns of three men abreast, cavalry marches in columns of two abreast (exceptionally four), and motor vehicles travel in single columns. In general the right side of the road is used; but when organizations are mixed, the infantry should be permitted to march on the more comfortable side for walking. Within the infantry division, the commander must organize his troops for the march so that he can bring all of them to bear against the enemy in a concerted attack in a single day. In order to accomplish this, it may be necessary to march in two, three, or four columns, with each column providing its own security. Examples are illustrated by the following diagrams:

[Organization for Marching: Examples 1-4]


The commander of a larger unit is responsible for connection with the next lower; the smaller units must cooperate, however, when difficulties arise. In terrain, or under circumstances, where visibility is restricted, arrangements for continuous connection are intensified. On a march in several columns, communication between the columns is maintained through the most appropriate available means.16


Since it is important to provide conditions which permit an even rate of march, the mixing of different sorts of troops should be avoided as much as possible.17 On good roads and under favorable conditions the following average speeds can be accomplished:18

 Per hour
Foot troops   5 km (3 mi)
Foot troops (small units)6 km (3½ mi)
Mounted troops (trot and walk)7 km (4 mi)
Mounted troops (trot)10 km (6 mi)
Bicyclists12 km (7½ mi)
Motorcyclists40 km (25 mi)
Large organizations with all weapons: 
     (1) Including rest periods 4 km (2½ mi)
     (2) Under stress, without rest periods 5 km (3 mi)
Motorized units30 km (18 mi)

Intense heat, poor roads, snow, ice, absence of bridges, and other local conditions greatly influence the march rate and the travel distance accomplished. The rate for foot troops on a cross-country or mountainous march decreases from the normal hourly rate by as much as 2 or 3 kilometers.

When great distances must be covered rapidly, motor and rail transportation can be used to expedite marches; for distances under 150 kilometers (93 miles) the use of motor transportation is recommended. When circumstances require foot or mounted troops to make forced marches, every effort is made to assist the accomplishment. Strict march discipline is preserved, and severe measures are meted out against malingerers. The men are told why the particular march is being made, and arrangements are made for rests where refreshments such as hot coffee or tea will be served. Their packs are carried, if possible, in trains.


The commnander should indicate in the march order all the necessary information concerning the duration and other conditions of the march. An officer should be sent forward to reconnoiter suitable areas for rests. Arrangements should be made for a short halt, not longer than 15 minutes, to begin after the troops have marched about 2 kilometers (1 1/4 miles) so that equipment and clothing may be comfortably readjusted on the men and animals. The troops remain near the road during such short periods, spreading out only a sufficient distance to secure cover from hostile air observation. When a long march is made, halts are ordered about every 2 hours. Rest periods are utilized for eating, drinking, feeding animals, and checking vehicles. The stopping places should be near water and not too restricted. In summer a rest should be prescribed during the hottest time of the day. During long rest periods the troops are arranged in groups; and when hostile airplanes approach, the air guards sound the warning and the troops take cover, remaining motionless.


The security of a force in a rest area is obtained by careful preparation within the area and by sending out security forces instructed to conduct reconnaissances, these cautions being exercised in order to prevent the enemy from obtaining information about the main force, and in order to protect the main force from surprise and give it time to prepare for combat. According to the degree of danger, if far from the enemy, simpler precautions may be taken; but since the effect of distance has been greatly reduced by motorization and air operations, the following principles of outposting should apply:

(a) Employ the minimum number of troops consistent with the situation. (b) Exploit the natural protective features of the terrain, particularly if the enemy is liable to employ armored vehicles; always establish road blocks. (c) By day, maintain observers in points of vantage for distant viewing of the surrounding terrain. (d) By night, maintain listening points and patrols on or near all possible avenues of approach. (e) Provide protection for the flanks and rear. (f) Establish air guards and a warning system.

16 Airplanes (troops expose panels upon signal from the air observer), radio (when secrecy does not preclude its use), ray lamps, liaison officers (through the messenger system), wire telephone and telegraph (when contact with the enemy is imminent), blinker (frequently), and signal flags (seldom).
17 Pack animals are one disturbing factor in maintaining an even rate of march.
18 For foot troops under ordinary conditions the distance prescribed as a "buffer" between companies, or similar units, is 10 paces; for mounted troops and trains, 15 paces. Such distances do not apply, of course, when air defense depth has been ordered.

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