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"Weaknesses of Artillery Defensive Positions" from Intelligence Bulletin, Nov. 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Captured orders from the artillery regiment of the Hermann Goering Division highlight weaknesses of artillery defensive positions in Sicily, from Intelligence Bulletin, November 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy equipment and tactics published for Allied soldiers. More accurate data on German weapons and tactics is available in postwar publications.]




In Sicily the positions of the Armored Artillery Regiment of the Hermann Goering Division were so unsatisfactory that on 23 July the regimental commander felt it necessary to issue a sharply worded order requiring that certain outstanding weaknesses be corrected at once. The commander had just returned from a visit to the batteries. His most significant statements are either quoted or paraphrased in this section.


a. Precautions Against Damage by Fire

The regimental commander said, at the beginning of his order:

We are in danger of suffering great damage by fire, not only as a result of incendiary bombs, but because of the carelessness of our own soldiers. I notice that, in spite of my repeated written and oral warnings, the requisite measures for protection against damage by fire have not been put into effect. I shall hold the commanding officers of units responsible if adequate measures are not at once ordered and carried out.

The expression "repeated warnings" is interesting. Any weakness continually displayed by this regiment, once regarded as a superior outfit, may sooner or later become apparent elsewhere in the German Army, granting the existence of such pressure as the United Nations were able to bring to bear in Sicily. Even if the weaknesses noted by this particular regimental commander are not at present widespread, they are at least symptomatic—an indication that the harder we hit, the more rapidly German efficiency is likely to decline.

The order stipulated that fire trenches be constructed around guns and ammunition supplies in such a way as not to interfere with the quick removal of camouflage, when necessary.

In every position sufficiently large detachments of fire sentries were to be ready day and night with the necessary equipment such as Feuerpatschen (fire brooms), filled water containers, and so on.

Prime movers and emergency trailers were to be kept nearby, so that guns could be removed quickly in case of danger or damage by fire or enemy shelling. Commanding officers were to check regularly to make sure that these measures were being followed.

b. Further Construction of Firing Positions

It was pointed out that the necessary attention still was not being paid to the construction of firing positions: the digging-in of the guns, the preparation of enough foxholes for proper cover, and the construction of ditches for ammunition, with shells and cartridges kept separate. The detachments in gun positions and observation-post personnel were not to rest until everything was under cover. This work was to be done at night. In order to preserve, as far as possible, the fighting fitness of over-tired elements in action in the firing positions and observation posts, the rear services were to be utilized for such additional digging.

c. Track Discipline

In some instances deep, conspicuous tracks led into the firing positions. No attention had been paid to the planning of routes which would afford at least some semblance of camouflage against air observation. Disorganized driving in and out—that is, the movement of guns without an intelligently devised track plan—had been the cause of this. The regimental commander reminded his battery commanders that one of their primary duties was to take care of this aspect of the camouflaging of firing positions. He ordered battery commanders to inspect all positions from suitably high terrain points, for the purpose of taking advantage of all natural camouflage for tracks, and of visualizing how the positions would appear to hostile aircraft.

d. Alternate Positions

Alternate positions were not being occupied with the requisite speed, when such moves were dictated by the situation. The regimental commander ordered that batteries be made more mobile so that new positions could be occupied without difficulty. He pointed out that the shelling of German positions over open sights (with time and percussion fuzes and smoke shells) could be expected to force the abandonment of these positions. Too often, he said, batteries supplied with a large amount of ammunition, but insufficiently mobile had been utterly destroyed in a matter of hours by concentrations of hostile fire.

e. "Last Covering Height"

The importance of a "last covering height" was something that all members of the regiment seemed to have forgotten completely, the regimental commander said. He ordered that, inasmuch as most of the observation posts were on forward slopes or on gentle inclines, notices be put up in places most exposed to the hostile forces, and that these signs read "Warning! Last covering height! Now you are observed by the enemy!" He required that the routes from observed positions to headquarters and observation posts be clearly marked with sign posts and that, if necessary, approach trenches be constructed to these positions after dark.

f. Conclusion

The final words of the order are perhaps the most revealing.

To sum up, units containing elements which still are inexperienced or stupid or apathetic must be taken in hand, and energetically taught and controlled by the officers in command of these units. If this is done, the heavy casualties that we have been incurring up to the present time may be avoided in the future. In particular, the most careful measures are to be undertaken everywhere for the organization of an air-raid warning system. Each unit commander will see to it that the system operates smoothly and that any man who fails to perform his duty is punished ruthlessly. I have repeatedly stressed the principles contained in this order. Only when they are adhered to by everyone will the artillery avoid heavy casualties and, by maintaining its strength, be able to carry out its task.

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